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The show must go on

Paile ChabanePaile Chabane, MRG’s International Human Rights Officer for Africa, reports from the first precarious day of a landmark conference on minorities in Africa

The good news is that most of the invited participants have arrived. However two will not be able to make it. Among them is a Ugandan Member of Parliament who is also Chair of the Equal Opportunities Committee. The more worrying news is that there is no sign of any of the invited members from the African Commission or the Chairperson of the South African Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, who was to be the keynote speaker.

Already the seminar is starting to feel like it’s going downhill and I am extremely unsettled. But the show has to go on while our South African partner organization responsible for the seminar’s logistical arrangements makes follow up enquiries about the whereabouts of the missing participants. As it turns out, in the case of the Commissioners, one will arrive this evening, while the other one we can only assume will no longer be available to attend. As for the keynote speaker, we get word that he will be coming later on… apparently there had been a mix up with the dates.

And so the day’s programme gets underway with the opening ceremony, and proceeds to the substantive part while we wait for the keynote speaker to arrive, at which point we will pause the session and give him the platform to address the participants. Things start to feel a little better…

It is such a shame that the Commissioner was not present for the day’s proceedings because certainly it laid the foundations for the seminar as it explored terminologies, definitions, approaches for the promotion and protection of minority rights from other regions in the world, as well as the consequences of the failure to do so.

The highlight so far is definitely the panel discussion involving representatives of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in Africa. They give personal accounts of the challenges they face as a result of their status. This is counterbalanced by the response from the Ugandan MP who explains the efforts undertaken by the Equal Opportunities Committee to investigate the reports they get of violations of the rights of minority communities in Uganda. Apparently they are in the process of drafting a policy on minority rights protection, as it is provided for in the Ugandan Constitution. This gives the session a less abstract and theoretical feel.

The end of the day brings the ice-breaking reception/cocktail and the arrival of the Vice Chairperson of the African Commission so I can finally heave a sigh of relief.

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