Amnesty in Africa


| November 21, 2000

Amnesty in Africa

How does Amnesty International persuade a government to change its ways? In a gripping personal account, Jonathan Power tells Prospect magazine about the week he spent in Nigeria, brokering with former Amnesty-backed political prisoner Olusegun Obasanjo.

Obasanjo recently returned to power after the death of General Sani Abacha, Nigeria's military president from 1993 to 1998. The climate in Nigeria changed dramatically after Abacha's death.

'It's a different world,' another Amnesty worker explains to Power. 'People feel free. Fear has gone.' But there is one catch, according to Power: 'When trouble erupts in ethnic disputes there are often reports of army and police abuses.' As Power met with other human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), they agreed that while Obasanjo has given the people political freedom, they still live under the tyranny of the police.

Amnesty Nigeria, started in 1968 by missionaries living in the eastern town of Calabar, now has a membership of as many as 5,700. They fought hard against Abacha's military regime, so there is great hope that Amnesty Nigeria can help end this abuse.

Power and his team sat down with Obasanjo to discuss the past and present human rights abuses, but stumbled on several roadblocks. While Obasanjo said he respects Amnesty, he still thinks like a soldier, which hurts the organization's chances of ending military abuse. While it appears that Power and his colleagues face defeat in their immediate goals, they are still hopeful for gradual change. Concludes Power, 'An organisation begun 40 years ago in the mind of a Catholic, English lawyer of Jewish descent, has taken root in darkest Africa itself.'
--Amanda Luker
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