What Does it take to Build a Culture of Equality & Inclusion at the UN? Reflections from Inside a Change Process

Civil Society, Democracy, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women in Politics


“The Quilt in the Making”. Credit: Claudia Steinau

GENEVA, Oct 28 2022 (IPS) – The organisational is personal. Every day since the two of us were asked back in 2020 to co-lead the process of culture transformation at UNAIDS, the United Nations organisation which drives global efforts to end AIDS, we have both felt at our very core how crucial it has been to get it right.

The mission of UNAIDS is vital to ensuring the health and human rights of every person. Staff and partners need to be confident of a supportive and empowering culture that will enable their work.

A 2018 Report by an Independent Expert Panel had shone a light on what were important organisational shortcomings, leading to a comprehensive set of changes in leadership, systems and crucially, culture.

As the Culture Transformation process has got underway, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented shifts in work, and a resurgence of global protests, including from the Black Lives Matter movement and for women’s rights, have a generated an inspirational momentum for action to tackle intersectional injustice.

Reflecting almost three years of UNAIDS culture transformation work, what stands out in particular for the two of us is how the “outer work” has required so much “inner work”. We have needed to be, and to help others be, our full selves, and to acknowledge what we don’t yet know of each other’s experiences.

The process has deepened our appreciation of how our differences, both personally and professionally, are a key strength, enabling each situation, each process, to be seen from a combination of unique angles, and how equality is crucial in enabling all these to be brought forth.

Creating safe spaces for our colleagues to speak about their lived experiences was transformative. We asked ourselves and those around us tough and tender questions. We had colleagues tell us they felt heard for the first time. Brave conversations helped colleagues to connect and to advance the tangible changes that matter most to them.

We understood the need for a common reference framework for all of us at UNAIDS. This has led to a first set of feminist principles that guide our way forward.

Through the process, it became ever more clear to both of us that culture transformation begins at the personal level. As a Malawian woman of African-Asian heritage, living and working in Latin America at this time, intersecting identities and multiple cultural heritage became for Mumtaz the centre of personal reflections.

In leading conversations on decolonizing the HIV Response, Mumtaz’s own colonization was calling for attention. For Juliane, too, this has been powerful journey: as someone who has experienced sexual assault in the workplace, this work is deeply personal, driven by a determination to build safe workplaces for everyone, including by addressing inequalities and unhealthy power balances. Our intersectional feminist approach has brought our experiences to our work.

But this work has also highlighted that whilst the organisational is personal, so too the personal is often dependent on the organisational. Engaging with intersectional feminist principles at the personal level was not enough.

That is why we were proud to help UNAIDS become the UN entity to put intersectional feminist principles at the core of its being. It is why vital work continues to integrate those principles into policies and practices to advance a workplace culture in which every individual can flourish.

As we have helped build a movement for change across six regions, engaged in conversation with more than 500 colleagues, and supported some 25 diverse teams in their own journey, we have recognised the centrality of the institutional level.

Cultural transformation is a long and challenging process that requires the tenacity and creativity of many. To weave the stories and aspirations of so many of the champions for change together while preserving their uniqueness, we have borrowed the quilt symbol that is iconic in the AIDS response.

As the change process evolves, new tiles will be added, others might fade or need repairing. But the work is not done. It is a ‘quilt in the making’ – individual and collective work, one tile at a time.

Mumtaz Mia and Juliane Drews have led UNAIDS Culture Transformation since May 2020.

Mumtaz is a Public Health expert with two decades of experience working to end AIDS. Juliane is a change management expert with 15 years of experience in developing inclusive and just organizations in which staff in all their diversity thrive.

The link to UNAIDS Culture Transformation here.

IPS UN Bureau


Public Development Banks Can’t Drag Their Feet When It Comes to Building a Sustainable Future

Civil Society, Climate Action, COVID-19, Democracy, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Gender, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations


Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast , Oct 21 2022 (IPS) – A coalition of civil society organisations is demanding public development banks (PDBs) to take radical and innovative steps to tackle human rights violations and environmental destruction. No project funded by PDBs should come at the expenses of vulnerable groups, the environment and collective liberties, but should instead embody the voices of communities, democratic values and environmental justice.

The demands, part of a collective statement signed by more than 50 civil society organisations, come as over 450 PDBs gather in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, from October 19th, for a third international summit, dubbed Finance in Common.

The COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency, coupled with human rights violations and increasing risks for activists worldwide, is bringing the need to change current practices into even sharper focus. While public development banks may drag their feet on addressing intersecting and structural inequalities, civil society organisations are taking actions aimed at creating dignified livelihoods by embedding development with concrete affirmative measures towards climate, social, gender, and racial justice.

PDBs cannot be reluctant to act. They need to hit the target when it comes to supporting the transformation of economies and financial systems towards sustainability and addressing the most pressing needs of citizens worldwide – from food systems to increasing support for a just transition towards truly sustainable energy sources. PDBs must recognise that public services are the foundation of fair and just societies, rather than encouraging their privatisation and keep austerity narratives alive.

9 out of 10 people live in countries where civic freedoms are severely restricted, and with an environmental activist killed every two days on average over the past decade, development banks have an obligation to recognize and incorporate human rights in their plans and actions, following a “do not harm” duty.

Civil society organisations at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Noel Emmanuel Zako

Communities cannot be left out of the door. They need to be given the space to play the rightful role of driving forces in the answers to today’s global challenges, without them PDBs will move backwards rather than forward – and this means more environmental degradation, less democratic participation, and to put it bluntly an even greater crisis than the one we are facing today. And nobody needs that.

The recommendations in the collective civil society statement emerge from a three-year process of engagement and exchange, involving civil society networks in an effort to shape PDBs policies and projects. You can find some of their words and messages below.

As the call for accountability grows, the Finance in Common summits are an opportunity for PDBs to show moral leadership and help remedy the lack of long-term collaborations with civil society, communities and indigenous groups, threatening to curtail development narratives and practices.

Here’s the messages from civil society organisations from around the globe directed at public development banks.

Oluseyi Oyebisi, Executive Director of Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) the Nigerian national network of 3,700 NGOs said: “The Sahara and Sahel countries especially have been facing the most serious security crisis in their history linked with climate change, social justice and inequalities in the region. Marked by strong economic (lack of opportunities especially for young people), social (limitation of equitable access to basic social services) and climatic vulnerabilities, the region has some of the lowest human development indicators in the world – even before the covid pandemic. Access to affected populations is limited in some localities due to three main factors: the security situation, the poor state of infrastructures and difficult geographic conditions. PDBs must prioritise civil society organisations and Communities initiatives supporting state programs of decentralization, security sector reforms and reconciliation. This will help reduce the vulnerability of populations and prevent violent extremism.”

Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of Spong, the NGO network of Burkina Faso said: “Development projects shape our world; from the ways we navigate our cities to how rural landscapes are being transformed. Ultimately, they impact the ways we interact with one another, with plants and animals, with other countries and with the food on our plates. The decisions taken by public development banks are therefore existential. Such responsibility comes with an even greater one to include communities directly concerned by development projects, those whose air, water and everyday lives are affected for generations to come. For this to happen, public development banks must reinforce their long-term efforts to create dialogue with civil society organisations, social movements and indigenous communities in order to fortify the democratic principles of their work. We encourage them to listen, to ask and to cooperate in innovative ways so that development stays true to its original definition of progress and positive change; a collective, participative and fair process and a word which has a meaning not for a few, but for all.”

Tity Agbahey, Africa Regional Coordinator, Coalition for human rights in development said: “Many in civil society have expressed concerns about Finance in Common as a space run by elites, that fails to be truly inclusive. It is a space where the mainstream top-down approach to development, instead of being challenged, is further reinforced. Once again, the leaders of the public development banks gathered at this Summit will be taking decisions on key issues without listening to those most affected by their projects and the real development experts: local communities, human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples, feminist groups, civil society. They will speak about “sustainability”, while ignoring the protests against austerity policies and rising debt. They will speak about “human rights”, while ignoring those denouncing human rights violations in the context of their projects. They will speak about “green and just transition”, while continuing to support projects that contribute to climate change.”

Comlan Julien AGBESSI, Regional Coordinator of the Network of National NGO Platforms of West Africa (REPAOC), a regional coalition of 15 national civil society platforms said: “Regardless of how they are perceived by the public authorities in the various countries, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) contribute to covering the aspects and spaces not reached or insufficiently reached by national development programmes. Despite the undeniable impact of their actions on the living conditions of populations, NGOs remain the poor cousins of donor funding, apart from the support of certain philanthropic or charitable organisations. In such a context of scarce funding opportunities, aggravated by the health crisis due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic crisis, Pooled Finance, which is in fact a paradigm shift, appears to be a lifeline for CSOs. This is why REPAOC welcomes the commitments made by both the Public Development Banks and the Multilateral Development Banks to directly support CSO projects and programmes in the same way as they usually do with governments and the private sector. Through the partnership agreements that we hope and pray for between CSOs and banks, the latter can be assured that the actions that will be envisaged for the benefit of rural and urban communities will certainly reach them with the guarantees of accountability that their new CSO partners offer”.

Frank Vanaerschot, Director of Counter Balance, said: “As one of this year’s organisers of the Finance in Common Summit, the EIB will brag about the billions it invests in development. The truth is the bank will be pushing the EU’s own commercial interests and promoting the use of public money for development in the Global South to guarantee profits for private investors. Reducing inequalities will be second-place at best. The EIB is also co-hosting the summit despite systemic human rights violations in projects it finances from Nepal to Kenya. Instead, the EIB and other public banks should work to empower local communities by investing in the public services needed for human rights to be respected, such as publicly owned and governed healthcare and education – not on putting corporate profits above all else.”

Stephanie Amoako, Senior Policy Associate at Accountability Counsel said: “PDBs must be accountable to the communities impacted by their projects. All PDBs need to have an effective accountability mechanism to address concerns with projects and should commit to preventing and fully remediating any harm to communities”.

Jyotsna Mohan Singh, Regional Coordinator, Asia Development Alliance said: “PDBs should have a normative core; they should start with the rights framework. This means grounding all safeguards into all the various rights frameworks that already exist. There are rights instruments for indigenous people, the elderly, women, youth, and people living with disability. They are part and parcel of a whole host of both global conventions and regional conventions. Their approach should be grounded in those rights, then it will be on a very firm footing.

Asian governments need to support, implement, and apply strict environmental laws and regulations for all PDBs projects. The first step is to disseminate public information and conduct open and effective environmental impact assessments for all these projects, as well as strategic environmental assessments for infrastructure and cross-border projects.”

IPS UN Bureau


Activists Call Out 11 Muslim Member States to Repeal Death Penalty for Blasphemy

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Religion, TerraViva United Nations


Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

LOS ANGELES / WASHINGTON DC, Oct 21 2022 (IPS) – Eleven out of 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) still sanction the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy, silencing their citizens and emboldening violence by non-state actors.

For the past 70 years, Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has condemned capital punishment for religious offenses, a global standard shared during our recent visit to the UN headquarters in New York.

As a prelude to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) high-level meetings in mid-September, we led the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws, urging UN members to stand in strong support during two paramount resolutions calling for an end to the death penalty and extrajudicial killings.

We urge the insertion of language codifying the death penalty never being imposed as a sanction for non-violent conduct such as blasphemy and apostasy. The effort produced an encouraging response by Nigerian third committee officials who renewed their commitment to freedom of religion or belief by supporting embedded language in both the moratorium on the death penalty and a resolution on renouncing the death penalty for extrajudicial killings.

In the days that followed our visit, the world has witnessed the outrage of human rights activists and concerned global citizens with the death of Masha Amini, an Iranian Muslim woman who was arrested and subsequently died in the custody of Iranian morality police for a violation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s compulsory hijab mandate.

Brutal cases like these will only cease when government officials in Iran, and other egregious human rights violators, listen to the cries of their people and uphold globally recognized human rights declarations. These include statutes supporting international religious freedom or belief, and the repeal of apostasy and blasphemy laws.

When most countries around the world and the majority of Muslim nations are taking concrete steps to abolish capital punishment for perceived religious offenses such as blasphemy and apostasy, some refuse to modernize their legislation, thus branding themselves as the worst violators of internationally recognized basic human rights.

This staunch obsession with upholding persecutory laws and implementing the harshest of punishments, violates religious freedoms – the right to life and the right to freedom of religion or belief. This misinterpretation of scripture is an abuse of Islam, tarnishing the image of Muslims around the world and a disregard to Gods mercy, a belief that transcends faith orientation.

The multidisciplinary and multifaith delegation from the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Campaign urged UN members, including: Luxemburg, Canada, and Sri Lanka, to raise their voices loudly in favor of embedded international religious freedom language in two resolutions which will come up for a vote during the UNGA in November.

Penholders Australia and Costa Rica are calling for a moratorium on the death penalty which is only supported by the IRF Campaign with the addition of specific language ensuring the death penalty never be imposed for non-violent conduct such as apostasy or blasphemy.

Likewise, Finland, as penholder for the UNGA resolution on extrajudicial executions, is being asked by global advocates to add language on freedom of religion or belief, emphasizing the necessity for States to take effective measures to repeal laws currently allowing the death penalty for religious offences, such as criminalization of conversion and expression of religion or belief as a preventative measure.

Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is clear – everyone has the right to freedom of religion or belief. Yet, 11 States today maintain the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy. We raise the voices of the voiceless, such as Pakistani woman Aneeqa Ateeq who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in January 2022 after being manipulated into a religious debate online by a man who she romantically refused.

Also, an 83-year-old Somali man, Hassan Tohow Fidow, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy by an al-Shabaab militant court and subsequently horrifically executed by firing squad; and a 22-year-old Nigerian Islamic gospel singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu who was sentenced to death for blasphemy because one of his songs allegedly praised an Imam higher than the Prophet.

As an outcome of our UN advocacy, we pray that the 11 Muslim member states—Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen– join in the common-sense repeal of the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a great step toward becoming civilized nations.

The majority of OIC member nations who do not sanction the death penalty for religious offenses should be regarded as examples of modernity and humanity and their path to restore and uphold basic human rights should be replicated.

The Qur’an says, “There shall be no compulsion in religion; the right way has become distinct from the wrong way.” (Qur’an 2:256). Likewise, we read passages like 18:26:, “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord. Whoever wills – let him believe. And whoever wills – let him disbelieve,” and “whoever among you renounces their own faith and dies a disbeliever, their deeds will become void in this life and in the Hereafter (Qur’an 2:217).”

The holy book, which serves as a moral compass for the laws in OIC member nations, upholds the right to freedom of religion or belief which has been recognized by the OIC majority.

As has been recently witnessed in Iran, when civil society activates around globally recognized human rights, the world takes note. The OIC asserts its purpose “to preserve and promote the foundational Islamic values of peace, compassion, tolerance, equality, justice and human dignity” and “to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, rule of law, democracy, and accountability”.

To that end, with the passage of both critical UN resolutions, OIC members will face the controversial and politically sensitive task of calling out other OIC colleagues who continue to violate human rights by imposing the death sentence upon individuals for exercising their right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

We assert that it is a societal problem as much as it is a reflection of the deficiency of democratic values and principles.

Embedding international religious freedom language in both resolutions calling for the repeal of the death penalty will be strengthened with the strong support of the 46 OIC nations and other human rights champion nations in the days ahead.

We are encouraged by Saudi Arabian scholar, Dr. Mohammad Al-Issa of the Muslim World Alliance, who travels the world sharing the unanimously approved Charter of Makkah – a document affirming differences among people and beliefs as part of God’s will and wisdom.

Our collective voice must be unwavering in its call and commitment to repeal the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy as a primary step towards upholding theologies of love and compassion, building toward human flourishing.

Dr. Christine M. Sequenzia, MDiv is co-chair IRF Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws; Soraya M. Deen, Esq. is lawyer, community organizer, founder, Muslim Women Speakers, and co-chair International Religious Freedom (IRF) Women’s Working Group

IPS UN Bureau


Developing Countries Battle Climate Change, While the Wealthy Make Frozen Pledges: Will COP27 Usher a New Era?

Biodiversity, Climate Action, Climate Change, Conferences, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change

Climate change is predicted to put pressure on the Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt's population resides. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS

Climate change is predicted to put pressure on the Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt’s population resides. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS

Cairo, Oct 20 2022 (IPS) – The countdown to the UN Climate Summit COP27, which will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to November 18, has begun.

This summit has drawn the attention of world leaders, high-ranking United Nations officials, and thousands of environmental activists worldwide.

The COP27 summit is an annual gathering of 197 countries to discuss climate change and what each country is doing to limit the impact of human activity on the climate.

About 90 heads of state have confirmed their attendance at the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, according to the special representative of the Egyptian presidency.

Amr Abdel-Aziz, Director of Mitigation at Egypt’s Ministry of Environment, noted that the central theme for COP27 is implementation.

“We hope to demonstrate what that looks like in terms of mitigation and adaptation. If the summit can address the topic of implementation in all of its discussions, it will be a sign of its success,” Abdel-Aziz said.

The primary objective of COP27 is to achieve positive results in terms of emissions reduction; on the agenda is also a discussion of financing losses and damage.

“We also intend to advance the agenda to double climate adaptation financing by 2025 and reach an agreement on the unfulfilled $100 billion financial pledge from developed countries,” Abdel-Aziz told IPS.

The overarching goal is to strike a balance between all parties’ interests. The mitigation program, for example, is primarily driven by developed countries and small island developing states, which are currently experiencing severe climate change impacts.

On the other hand, emerging markets are principally accountable for adjustments, losses, and damages.

“Our goal is to achieve a balanced result that meets all of these goals and objectives,” he continued

“We wanted to cover as much of Egypt’s total emissions as possible,” Abdel-Aziz explains, “So we focused on three sectors: energy, oil and gas, and transportation. We also chose the industries that are most likely to reduce emissions.”

Abdel-Aziz says he is optimistic about meeting the goals, especially in the transport sector, which could even exceed the goals as there has been significant progress including in the area of “transportation electrification and other forms of sustainable mobility.”

The summit’s top priorities are to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals and progress in the fight against climate change. According to scientific research, limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2030 requires cutting emissions in half.

“Climate finance must be available for this to occur,” COY 17 Programme Leader Hossam Imam told IPS.

COY17 is an annual event organized by YOUNGO, the Official Youth Constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This year’s event will take place on the sidelines of the 27th Party Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt (COP27).

Imam will collaborate with 1,500 young people from 140 countries to draft the youth statement, which will be delivered to the presidency of the Climate Summit and discussed by high-ranking officials.

“The impact of climate change on indigenous peoples and coastal city dwellers who face flooding is one of the most pressing issues to be addressed in COY 17,” Imam said.

Environmental activist Ahmed Fathy told IPS that the most significant obstacle to developing countries achieving their climate goals is a “lack of adequate and adequate financing from developed countries. And, despite years of neglect, adaptation financing remains a top priority for developing countries. Without it, developing countries cannot combat and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The Nile Valley and Delta, where about 95% of Egypt’s population resides, make up only 4% of the country’s natural area. Climate change is predicted to put pressure on these areas, particularly the Nile, and the region could experience more frequent droughts.

“Egypt is also one of the few nations that actually struggle with water scarcity,” Fathy added.

“Since the world faces several economic issues in addition to the energy crisis, we expect that the conference will produce workable proposals,” said Fathy, the founder of the ‘Youth Love Egypt Association,’ involved in organizing the COY17 conference and the promotion of the COP27. “We expect the summit to produce a workable charter and to be COP for actions rather than COP for pledges.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


Mo Laudi celebrates the explosive silence of a famous Gerard Sekoto painting

Mo Laudi and James Webb, two expatriate South African visual artists interested in sound and its relationship to sight, are holding court in France. 

Laudi, a DJ, artist and curator living in Paris, has organised a large museum show in the eastern-central city of Saint-Étienne. Webb, who is from Cape Town but lives in Stockholm, Sweden, is a participant in the Lyon Biennale, one of Europe’s leading showcases for new art.

Laudi’s exhibition Globalisto: A Philosophy in Flux features work by 19 artists, among them Amsterdam-based Moshekwa Langa and Samson Kambalu, a Malawian living in Oxford, England. It offers an elaboration of Laudi’s self-styled “globalisto philosophy”, a pan-Africanist idea rooted in “radical hospitality”, “openness” and the aspiration to create a “counsel culture” through art. 

That the objects on view, among them striking textile pieces by Langa, Kambalu and Antwerp-based Nigerian Otobong Nkanga, are mute doesn’t lessen the importance of sound in their appreciation. “To restore silence is the role of objects,” wrote Samuel Beckett in his 1955 novel Molloy.

Webb, a local pioneer in the use of sound in art, has a keen grasp on the power of silence. For his Lyon Biennale presentation, he has produced a new body of work framed around the disruptive potential of an unanswered question.

Speakers at four venues across Lyon broadcast a series of questions, voiced by Johannesburg playwright Sylvaine Strike. Spoken at 10-second intervals in English and French, the questions address park users, museum-goers and specific objects, among them an urn that dispensed the ancient cure-all medicine theriac.

The Lyon work is a continuation of a project started in 2018 when Webb recorded a voice posing questions to a Chewa mask made in the image of Elvis Presley.

“To whom am I speaking?” asks Strike of a Roman coin from 70CE on view in a former home-appliance factory used by the biennale. “What languages do you speak? Where were you created? What are your memories of that place? What were you worth when you first circulated? How do you see your value now?”

No answers are offered to Webb’s scripted questions; the enquiry, and the silence around it, is all. 

That France is receptive to émigré South African artists with a love of music and sonic mischief is nothing new. Shortly after his arrival in Paris in 1947, painter Gerard Sekoto landed a regular gig as a pianist at a bar in fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Prés. 

In James Webb’s work at the Lyon Biennale, a series of personal questions is addressed to an urn. (Aurelie Troccon/Musee des Hospices Civils de Lyon)

After an unrehearsed audition in which he “strummed and chanted and groaned and shouted”, Sekoto was contracted to play a repertoire of jazz and African-American spirituals. The gig provided income and community at a difficult time in Sekoto’s exile from home.

Sekoto is an important ancestor for Laudi. Born Ntshepe Bopape in Polokwane in 1978, when he was 12, Laudi was awarded a prize to create a mural honouring Sekoto at the Polokwane Art Museum. He learnt Sekoto, too, had lived in Polokwane, working as a schoolteacher there in the 1930s before pursuing art professionally and moving to France.

It was in Paris, as part of his first outing as a curator at Bonne Espérance Gallery last year, that Laudi paid homage to Sekoto. Unable to secure Sekoto’s drawings of Parisian nightclubs for his exhibition Salon Globalisto, Laudi built a sound installation in a nearby church instead. It replayed songs from Sekoto’s 1959 Negro Spirituals, released by the French label Les Disques Deva.

“You could hear Sekoto sing every Saturday for the duration of the exhibition,” says Laudi when we speak via Zoom. “To hear him sing, it was so much more powerful than having a drawing.”

Upping the ante, Laudi’s exhibition at Saint-Étienne’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (up until 16 October) is introduced with Sekoto’s important painting Song of the Pick (1947). The composition depicts a row of nine black men, picks raised in unison, attacking a patch of earth. A pipe-smoking white man, hands tucked into his pockets, oversees their labour. 

“It is breathtaking,” enthuses Laudi of Sekoto’s work, which is owned by mining house South32. “It makes me think of singing, the continuum of the work song and its connection to labour and prison songs. It makes you think of the power of song and community.”

Nigerian Otobong Nkanga’s ‘Kolanut Tales, Dismembered’ on Mo Laudi’s exhibition ‘Globalisto: A Philosophy in Flux’.

Laudi’s enthusiastic account frequently breaks down. In these moments he reverts to imitating the  sounds suggested by the painting, the “sensorial explosion” of Sekoto’s hoisted picks about to break open the ground.

It is claimed Sekoto based Song of the Pick on a 1930s photograph by Andrew Goldie showing nine black labourers with picks being watched by a white master. Laudi repeats this to me. It is only a part of this iconic painting’s story.

In 1938, Eastern Cape artist Dorothy Kay produced a wildly popular, and also widely circulated, etching titled Song of the Pick. Her skilfully conceived work portrays four bare-chested men in a sculptural line hoisting picks.

Sekoto began to explore the same subject in a 1939 watercolour. But it is his 1947 oil composition that refutes the heroic terms of Kay’s study of bare-chested labour, offering in its place something suggestive of unified purpose in the face of white exploitation.

“When people come together, they can fight with strength,” Laudi summarises.

Laudi’s own sense of the power of community was shaped by his love of music. He name-checks Run-DMC, Tupac, A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def and Saul Williams as early influences. For a time, he went by the rap and graffiti handle “Capone”. 

He adopted the “Mo Laudi” moniker after moving to London in the early 2000s.

“Music choose me in some ways,” says Laudi. “In London, I DJed every night at one point. It created a community, a home away from home. You find a bar and bring your whole gang of friends. 

“I think Sekoto in Paris struggled with that — finding a community. It is what made him dilapidated and end up in a mental hospital.”

Laudi’s move to Paris in 2010 has been less traumatic. Alongside his commercial music pursuits, he increasingly hustled for recognition in the art world. Earlier this year, he showed a suite of abstract paintings at the Dakar Bienniale, accompanied by a sound piece. The work was devoted to the pioneering abstract painter Ernest Mancoba, a colleague of Sekoto at Khaiso High School in Polokwane.

Part of Webb’s Lyon Biennale show.

Laudi’s upbringing cultivated his appreciation for sound. His parents have strong links to the Polokwane Choral Society. Founded in 1977, this storied choir has enjoyed great demand and even sang at Walter Sisulu’s funeral in 2003. Laudi’s father was a singer and his mother a conductor and director. 

In 2016, Laudi’s sister, the award-winning artist Dineo Bopape, detailed the choir’s history in her exhibition Sa Kosa Ke Lerole at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda.

“My sister has always been around somehow,” says Laudi of his better-known sibling. 

“She has used my music in her work. I asked her to do the cover of a release I did a while back.”

He offers this by way of registering a larger point about the “blurring of scenes” that has been central to his multifaceted career — and arguably Webb too, who once fronted a band and has also worked in theatre, producing sound for Athol Fugard’s The Bird Watchers

Gerard Sekoto’s ‘Song of the Pick.

Prompted by his recent expansion into the field of curating, I ask Laudi if curating an exhibition differs from compiling a playlist or DJ mix.

“Vastly,” he says after protracted laughter. “It’s incomparable, but it is comparable. You have to have patience, passion and knowledge. It’s years and years of really feeling the work and nurturing relationships. It is more nuanced. Nah, it’s not the same as making a playlist.”

Globalisto: A Philosophy in Flux is at Saint-Etienne Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMC+) until 16 October.

The 16th Lyon Biennale, featuring James Webb, runs in the city of Lyon until 31 December.


Persons with Disabilities Integral Players in Determining Innovative Solutions to Fully Inclusive Societies

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Labour, TerraViva United Nations


BANGKOK, Thailand, Oct 14 2022 (IPS) – Ten years ago, the Asia-Pacific region came together and designed the world’s first set of disability-specific development goals: the Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities. This week, we meet again to assess how the governments have delivered on their commitments, to secure those gains and develop the innovative solutions needed to achieve fully inclusive societies.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

Ministers, government officials, persons with disabilities, civil society and private sector allies from across Asia and the Pacific will gather from 19 to 21 October in Jakarta to mark the birth of a new era for 700 million persons with disabilities and proclaim a fourth Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities.

Our region is unique, having already declared three decades to protect and uphold the rights of persons with disabilities; 44 Asian and Pacific governments have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and we celebrate achievements in the development of disability laws, policies, strategies and programmes.

Today, we have more parliamentarians and policymakers with disabilities. Their everyday business is national decision-making. They also monitor policy implementation. We find them active across the Asia-Pacific region: Australia, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Türkiye. They have promoted inclusive public procurement to support disability-inclusive businesses and accessible facilities, advanced sign language interpretation in media programmes and parliamentary sessions, focused policy attention on overlooked groups, and directed numerous policy initiatives towards inclusion.

Less visible but no less important are local-level elected politicians with disabilities in India, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Indonesia witnessed 42 candidates with disabilities standing in the last election. Grassroot disability organizations have emerged as rapid responders to emerging issues such as COVID-19 and other crises. Organizations of and for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh have distinguished themselves in disability-inclusive COVID-19 responses, and created programmes to support persons with psychosocial disabilities and autism.

The past decade saw the emergence of private sector leadership in disability-inclusive business. Wipro, headquartered in India, pioneers disability inclusion in its multinational growth strategy. This is a pillar of Wipro’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Employees with disabilities are at the core of designing and delivering Wipro digital services.

Yet, there is always more unfinished business to address.

Even though we applaud the increasing participation of persons with disabilities in policymaking, there are still only eight persons with disabilities for every 1,000 parliamentarians in the region.

On the right to work, 3 in 4 persons with disabilities are not employed, while 7 in 10 persons with disabilities do not enjoy any form of social protection.

This sobering picture points to the need for disability-specific and disability-inclusive policies and their sustained implementation in partnership with women and men with disabilities.

One of the first steps to inclusion is recognizing the rights of persons with disabilities. This model focuses on the person and their dignity, aspirations, individuality and value as a human being. As such, government offices, banks and public transportation and spaces must be made accessible for persons with diverse disabilities. To this end, governments in the region have conducted accessibility audits of government buildings and public transportation stations. Partnerships with the private sector have led to reasonable accommodations at work, promoting employment in a variety of sectors.

Despite the thrust of the Incheon Strategy on data collection and analysis, persons with disabilities still are often left out of official data because the questions that allow for disaggregation are excluded from surveys and accommodations are not made to ensure their participation. This reflects a continued lack of policy priority and budgetary allocations. To create evidence-based policies, we need reliable and comparable data disaggregated by disability status, sex and geographic location.

There is hope in the technology leap to 5G in the Asia-Pacific region. The implications for the empowerment of persons are limitless: from digital access, e-health care and assistive devices at affordable prices to remote learning and working, and exercising the right to vote. This is a critical moment to ensure disability-inclusive digitalization.

We live in a world of volatile change. A disability-inclusive approach to shape this world would benefit everyone, particularly in a rapidly ageing Asia-Pacific region where everyone’s contributions will matter. As we stand on the precipice of a fourth Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities it remains our duty to insist on a paradigm shift to celebrate diversity and disability inclusion. When we dismantle barriers and persons with disabilities surge ahead, everyone benefits.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)

IPS UN Bureau