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LCID stands #WithSyria

13 March 2014

The British public can send strong message to the UK Government that this year must be the last one of the conflict.

The war in Syria will have been raging for three years this Saturday, March 15. The date marks the third anniversary of the start of the ongoing conflict. Over the past three years, the humanitarian situation in the country has worsened. The extent of the crisis is almost impossible to comprehend.

More than 130,000 are already dead, and every month a further 6,000 people are killed. There is also a displacement crisis of the worst possible level. Workers for NGOs, activists, and journalists have risked their lives over the past few years working in Syria to lessen the humanitarian crisis and to raise public awareness of the appalling reality of life for the Syrian people.

Responsibility for the conflict lies with President Assad’s regime. However, it also represents a three year long collective failing of the international community to agree on how to help ensure the end of the suffering. Extremism is rising, and terrorist attacks within neighbouring Lebanon demonstrate that concerns about the conflict spilling into neighbouring countries are becoming a reality. Neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq are straining under humanitarian pressure. In Lebanon alone, the World Bank has estimated the Syrian refugee crisis has cost over $7.5bn (£4.5bn).

There is a very real danger now the Geneva II talks have ended and the situation in Syria has not improved that the crisis will be overshadowed by other international events. Domestic events will dominate the UK political calendar over the next few months; next week’s budget, the local elections in May, followed by the Queen’s Speech in June – the last before the 2015 General Election.

The British public (including LCID members) have an important role in ensuring that all eyes remain on Syria. Syria must remain at the top of the UK Government agenda, and, together with international partners, the UK Government must do everything possible to press for a political solution, including engaging with those who have influence over the Assad regime.

For individuals, writing to, or better still arranging a meeting with, their MP to discuss the importance of ending the Syrian conflict is the best way to do this.

A strong message must be sent to the UK Government, and to the international community, that this year must be the last year of the conflict. We must reassert our solidarity with the people of Syria, and stand #WithSyria.


New research on Twitter in Africa: what does it mean for development?

12 March 2014

Laura Kyrke-Smith, LCID’s CLP & PPC Outreach Officer and Director at Portland

It has become a cliché to say that new communications technologies and platforms are bringing huge change to countries across Africa.

And whether it is DFID working with mobile phone companies to inform young people about nutrition, or the Gates Foundation working with smallholder farmers to improve access to digital financial services, international development organisations have adapted their priorities and programmes to capitalise on the opportunities provided by evolving communications technologies and platforms.

Even so, it is striking how quickly the communications landscape is evolving – and how the implications for the development community are changing fast in turn.

Today at Portland we launched our latest research into Twitter in Africa. Building on its 2012 study, Portland looked in more depth at which cities are the most active, which languages are being used, and which issues are being discussed.

Johannesburg is by far the most active city in Africa, with almost 350,000 geo-located tweets during the last quarter of 2014. In East Africa Nairobi takes the top spot, and in West Africa it is Accra.

3 out of 4 tweets in Africa are in English, French or Arabic, but there is plenty of Twitter activity too in Zulu, Swahili, Afrikaans and Xhosa – something that it is easy to overlook from outside.

And while some conversations revolve around politics – including #KenyaAt50, which was trending during the period studied – it is striking how dominant the conversations around brands, sports and entertainment are. More people tweeted about football than they did the death of Nelson Mandela.

All of which raises some interesting questions for people working in development.

At the launch event this morning, lots of people noted how Twitter in Africa doesn’t seem to be as disruptive to established elites as it has been elsewhere. While in the Ukraine there has been a surge in Twitter use around the protests, in Africa it is #SamsungLove that is trending. How do people who care about transparency and accountability help Twitter become a tool for asking questions, digging deeper and helping governments and businesses to become more accountable?

How do people working in development get their issues talked about in the same way that football or music is talked about? In January this year ONE launched their DO AGRIC campaign with a live Twitter chat with Nigerian musician D’banj. It put agriculture on the radar of hundreds of thousands of D’banj’s fans and Twitter followers, who otherwise would not have been engaged on the issue, and sets a lead that other development organisations will surely have to follow.

Who is driving the conversations that the development community here would like to see happening? No doubt there is more that donors and NGOs can do to steer and participate in conversations, but perhaps it is D’banj or gospel singer Juliani in Kenya, also prominent in Twitter debates on agriculture, who will be leading future conversations about development in Africa.
And is it enough to only track and engage on social media in English and French? English in particular is still very dominant, but it is important for development organisations to know that English language content might not reach one in four Twitter users on the continent.

Twitter is of course just one of many platforms taking off. More people use Facebook than Twitter in many parts of Africa; other social media platforms like Mxit are huge too.

But the challenges across the evolving media landscape are the same. Where are conversations happening now, what are they about, who is leading them? Understanding the answers – and the implications for development – will be essential in making the changes we want to see.

Can you dig out an old football top for Africa? Football4Africa at Scottish Conference

7 March 2014

Everyone attending the Scottish Labour Party Conference in Perth later this month has been asked by Shadow Secretary of State, Jim Murphy, to bring along a football top for Africa. Football4Africa collect old football kits – of any size – and send them to countries like Uganda, Malawi and Burkina Faso to those who’ll wear them with pride. The charity uses football to raise awareness and funds for the children of Africa. Whilst their parent charity, Abaana, meets their practical needs, Football4Africa want to give the kids something fun as well – and the chance to do something that many Scottish children might take for granted (although at current prices that’s becoming harder).

There are two ways you can donate your top at Conference. The Scottish Labour Party will be collecting shirts at the information desk in the conference centre. Alternatively bring it along to our Labour Campaign for International Development fringe event at 12:30pm on Friday 21st in Norie – Miller Studio B.

Please help if you can, and then maybe your favourite old shirt, could become someone else’s favourite new one. If you think you will be able to bring a top please email me at That way we can keep track of which teams we still need to collect. Even if you’re not going to the Conference you could give your top to someone who is so that they can bring it along for you. I look forward to seeing you and your football strip at conference.

Jim explains in his video which you can access here (and also demonstrates some fine footwork)

“Every football fan has got a favourite football strip. That kit your team wore on the special day when they won the Cup, or the first game you went to, the season you went up or the first year you had a season ticket. I’ve got more football tops than I’d care to admit – Athletic Bilbao, Kaizer Chiefs, Brazil, Scotland, South Africa, for some reason Motherwell and Middlesbrough. I also have a couple belonging to a team from the East End of Glasgow! Some of them are special, many of them aren’t, but most of them are just lying around the house doing nothing. That’s where Football4Africa comes in. They I don’t know about you, but I really like the idea of putting my old football shirts to some use, and with any luck helping to create little supporters clubs in Africa. You might even want to donate the shirt of your local Junior team. That’s why this year at Scottish Labour Conference I want to see if we can get a football top of every senior team in Scotland which we could then send to the charity in Africa. I’ll be bringing one of my old tops and it would be great if you could bring yours too.

Please help if you can, and then maybe your favourite old shirt, could become someone else’s favourite new one. If you think you will be able to bring a top please email me at That way we can keep track of which teams we still need to collect. Even if you’re not going to the Conference you could give your top to someone who is so that they can bring it along for you. I look forward to seeing you and your football strip at conference.”

Should the anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda make the UK consider invoking greater conditions on aid?

5 March 2014

Dr Purna Sen, Prospective 2015 parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion and Deputy Director of the Institute of Public Affairs, LSE

The past few months have seen several setbacks in the realisation of sexual rights in various parts of the world. From the Supreme Court in India upholding the penal code provision that criminalises same sex sexual activity, to the banning of gay marriage in Nigeria, to the anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda and the undoing of gay marriage provisions in Australia – times seem bad for LGBT rights. There are other developments that are more positive (the passing of equal marriage for example) but here I want to address the option of invoking conditions for the giving of foreign aid – an option that has been raised in the context of an onslaught on LGBT rights.

Uganda has been in the eye of the storm for some time. I first spoke to the government about the anti-homosexuality legislation in 2009. As Head of Human Rights for the Commonwealth Secretariat, I was tasked with leading work that helped member states to uphold the organisation’s values, respecting and promoting rights among them. As a member state and the most recent chair, Uganda was no ordinary member but held a key leadership role. There was limited but growing international awareness of this Bill, which one diplomat described to me as ‘odious and vile’. At the time, it included the following: death penalty for aggravated homosexuality, jail sentences for anyone aware of someone’s homosexuality but not reporting this to the authorities and a commitment to withdrawal from all international human rights obligations.

Uganda was neither alone nor in a minority in the Commonwealth in terms of criminalisation – over 40 members of the Commonwealth and about another 30 outside that association have similar legal provisions. However, to consider Africa a homophobic continent was profoundly unfair. States such as Rwanda and South Africa were exemplary in their stated and legal commitment to equality. Mauritius too subsequently supported moves towards decriminalisation at the United Nations. And voices within countries with abusive laws were raised in opposition: the west had no monopoly of outrage.

Only in recent years have issues of sexuality and sexual orientation entered into development debates, and they remain marginal even now for many practitioners. To deny choice, the right to privacy and dignity are incontrovertibly constraints on the ability to participate in or benefit from development and, more fundamentally, at odds with any notion of social justice that might be associated with development.

In light of these concerns, questions are being asked as to the introduction of conditionality for aid. Indeed, the World Bank has declared a review of a health related funding steam for Uganda. But such options are replete with problems for example- which rights will be selected for such stipulations and what is the threshold to be reached for aid to be re-instated once withdrawn?

First, which rights will form the basis for conditions to be applied? LGBT rights have taken the front seat at the moment – their time has come. We recognize the outrage of homophobia, violence and indignity – and rightly so. I have been struck at the poisonous language of hate, the conceit of equating homosexuality with paedophilia or impaired masculinity, that I have seen and heard.

Human rights are universal – that means all rights for all people so selecting rights for conditionality is difficult. Why would there be conditionality for the violation of LGBT rights but not other rights? Let’s just stay in Uganda for a moment – an anti-pornography law (recently signed off by President Museveni) imposes a dress code on women which has led to harassment and women being stripped and abused in public. If the violation of rights is sufficient to stop aid then would this law count? If that is not grievous enough then how about the flogging of women – in Sudan or in Maldives? How about cutting off hands or other body parts? Stoning? Female genital mutilation, which the UN estimates affects 100-140 million girls across the world? Enslavement of children? Torture? I, and no doubt many others, could argue the case for each of these examples but there are many more.

Neither aid nor its conditional distribution sit free from the geo-political context. Relations between many of the aid givers and recipients come laden with a history of colonialism and that taints the nature of discussion around both development and its aid flows. The heavy hand of colonial relations, continue to contaminate contemporary relations and aid conditionality is felt by many in recipient countries as neo-colonialism.

Safety of activists is another critical issue. If aid is withdrawn for the violation of LGBT rights, then LGBT activists become easily identifiable targets for retribution. It may be unintended but it is a knowable risk that donor countries or agencies take. It is also avoidable.

While the relationship between rights and development is increasingly appreciated, the appropriateness of conditionality in the promotion of rights is extremely problematic.

Uganda’s LGBT need our support – we must do all we can to assist them

28 February 2014

Pamela Nash MP, PPS to Shadow Secretary of State for International Development and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS

In recent weeks I have been watching the calendar, noting that President Museveni had until the 24th February to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill; hoping that sense would prevail and he would not accept this discriminatory legislation. Sadly he did, and invited the world’s media to witness it.

Uganda is a place close to my heart; it is home to family and friends of mine, I have been lucky enough to work there briefly as a student and visit several times since. I am deeply upset about this legislation being passed.

The Bill threatens life-sentences in jail to those who are found to have had homosexual sex (or “aggravated homosexuality”) and imprisoning those who are seen to “aid and abet” homosexuality in any way. This means it is now a criminal offence for a person not to report a family member, friend or neighbour for “homosexual behavior and related practices” and the law also appears to apply to those in authority.

Uganda’s Health Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, has now claimed that this Bill will not affect the fight against HIV, and will not prevent MSM seeking testing and treatment for HIV; however I just cannot see how this can be the case. This Bill criminalises just KNOWING that someone is partaking in”homosexual behaviour and related practices” which threatens to divide or imprison families; and will leave MSM fearing to visit health professionals in case they are turned over to the authorities. They will not accept this reassurance from a Government that has just passed such a draconian law against them.

This is happening in the only African country with rising rates of new HIV infections, in marked contrast to rest of the continent.

Men who have sex with men are 13 times more likely to contract HIV than the general population. By criminalising homosexuality the Ugandan Government is putting the AIDS response in real danger.

For me, this Bill is simply a violation of the human rights of the Ugandan people. It contradicts Uganda’s Constitution, which states
” All persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life and in every other respect and shall enjoy equal protection of the law.”

Unfortunately, the LGBT community no longer has equal protection of the law, in fact they themselves are criminalised. The message being sent out is that they are worth less than the rest of the population, and this gives license for all sorts of further discrimination.

I am hugely concerned about the safety of gay people in Uganda now. There has already been a marked increase in violent attacks in the lead up to the signing of the Bill on Monday and this does not look likely to subside. Sadly there have been unconfirmed reports of someone being murdered already this week, and people are frightened for their lives.

My blood ran cold when I saw that Red Pepper, a Ugandan tabloid, has published the names of 200 people who they say are homosexual, some with photographs. Three years ago, another paper, Rolling Stone, was set up for the purpose of “outing” gay Ugandans. This inflamed violence and has been linked to the murder of David Kato, who led Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the campaign to stop this Bill.

The UK Government has been consistently vocal in its opposition to the Bill , and must continue to voice our outrage that such a violation of human rights has been passed in 2014. The Government must also ensure that we do all we can to help the LGBT community on the ground in Uganda. They need our support more than ever before to remain safe, healthy and able to campaign against the discrimination they are facing.

Fairtrade Fortnight: Labour Councils can lead the UK’s public sector in supporting fair trade and union rights in developing countries

27 February 2014

by Glenn Power, LCID member

International Development can start in our town halls. Fairtrade fortnight is a good time to review some sobering facts – compared to best practice in Sweden and elsewhere British public sector organisations are sadly ineffective at supporting fair trade and decent working conditions in developing countries. So far only a handful of councils have gone beyond the minimal actions necessary to achieve ‘Fairtrade town’ status; and hardly any organisations act to promote decent working conditions in the factories that make their staff clothing or ICT equipment.

LCID members can start changing this now (below is a contact who can supply you with a model policy motion to put to your council, university, NHS Trust, school or other organisation). The effort is worthwhile and necessary. Although globalisation has reduced poverty in nations like India and China, tens of millions of workers are exploited because they are replaceable and unprotected by trade unions or enforced legislation on (inadequate) minimum wages, working hours, and basic safety – due, primarily, to Western multi-nationals’ ruthless drive to cut costs.

Clothing and ICT equipment: Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza disaster underlined how shameful working conditions can be in the clothing industry, as has the recent suppression of trade unionists in Cambodia. MakeITfair research has exposed the endemic suppression of trade union rights and exploitation of temporary ‘contract’ labour in ICT equipment manufacturers, often with brand owners’ support. Combined the ICT and clothing industries employ tens of millions – particularly young women and rural migrants. Their quality of life could be radically improved for minimal cost, because brand owners’ profits are large, and wages are so low. Garment machinists, for example, only receive around 2% of a garment’s end price. The problem is the inequitable distribution of profits and power. Enabling vulnerable workers to negotiate affordable wage rises contributes to development goals as fundamental as access to education and health care, and reduces aid dependency.

Influence: Collectively the potential influence of Britain’s public sector is huge. In 2012 £648 million was spent through three central ICT equipment contracts alone – on computers, printers, and mobile phones etc. Spending on staff clothing/apparel can be significant too, especially in the NHS.

Effective policies for high risk manufactured goods: relevant contracts should require contractors and brand owning importers to uphold ILO conventions in their supply chains, by contract, evidenced by genuine factory audits. Public authorities should also reserve the right to arrange audits themselves, ideally collectively, to ILO standards, in collaboration with local NGOs or Electronics Watch – strategies that should be facilitated by DIFID under Labour along with detailed reporting. The NHS has taken some limited first steps in £multi-million contracts for surgical instruments, thanks to the BMA, as this short film illustrates.

Fair trade: catering contracts should ask for full named ranges of relevant fairly traded products in ALL (council) facilities, including school canteens and vending machines if relevant. Councils in South Wales have shown the untapped potential – there hundreds of schools are supplied with Fairtrade bananas and fruit juices as standard items, because councils asked contractors for them by name in tenders. Amazingly, most councils don’t.

What can Labour Party members do?
Ask your CLP, union, Co-op party, or council to pass a model motion. You can contact Glenn Power – 020 7515 7835 for a fuller briefing, detailing what politicians and procurement officers need to know. It also provides resources such as tender wordings. Local authorities could also spread best practice policies to local Housing Associations, Universities, NHS organisations, and thousands of schools.

Wales and Scotland: LCID members in devolved nations could have a particularly significant impact by establishing best practice for the next Labour government to spread nationwide. But all Labour Party members can make a real contribution long before 2015, starting with our councils.

On UKIP & the Mail’s shameless ploy…

19 February 2014

The recent floods in the South of England have helped UKIP and the Daily Mail set a debate raging across radio phone-ins about whether part of the UK’s aid budget should be used to fund the response.
There are plenty of reasons why this is a bad idea but instead of rattling through them all it is probably easier to point you to this piece in the New Statesman by Jonathan Tanner at ODI, who criticises Nigel Farage for exploiting the world’s poor two months ahead of European elections and calls on us to stick up for aid and sensible politics.


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