Stephen Sackur speaks to Winnie Byanyima, the Ugandan boss of Oxfam International who is overseeing the NGO's move from the UK to Kenya.
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that the UK -- VDU P said it would
not support a deal that gave
concessions to the Irish Republic.
Now, it's time for HARDtalk
Welcome to HARDtalk A significant
shift is afoot in the world of
international development, more of
the decision-making power is being
located in the global South, closer
to the front line on the wall in
poverty. There is less talk of aid
and more of empowerment, self-help
and local solutions. And at the
forefront of this is my guest today,
Winnie Byanyima, the Ugandan boss of
Oxfam International, who is
overseeing the NGO's move from the
UK to can you. Is International
development currently and fit for
purpose? -- Kenya. -- and fit.
Winnie Byanyima, Wellcome.
We have talked to
quite a number of top officials on
this programme, the bosses of
international NGO's, you are
different from most because of your
back story. Do you feel somewhat
different from your peers in this
A little bit. Not completely.
I feel different because there are
few heads, maybe I am the first,
heads of a global organisation from
Africa, from the south and who is a
woman. Sometimes I feel a bit
different but generally feel the
same with my peers. We are all
passionate commerce share the same
values and we fight the same causes.
I am interested you pick that Word
fight, your life compare to most of
your peers has been defined by this
notion of struggle and fight.
Sometimes in the most liberal sense
because you did spend a couple of
years in the Ugandan bush fighting
against the dictatorship in Uganda.
So, for you, this idea of struggle
does seem to be very, very real.
is. I grew up in a crisis country
and are a brutal dictatorship, I
sought repression, I fled, I became
a refugee, I joined a struggle
against dictatorship, so yes, my
life is shaped by a struggle, by a
passion that I develop for human
rights, 40 quality, for women's
rights and this is my natural home.
Working in social justice movements.
-- fall equality.
Do you think you
are a radical almost to the point of
being a revolutionary?
something that had evolved during my
20s but I see myself as a practical,
pragmatic champion of human rights
and social justice and that is what
Oxfam International is, it is a
perfect home for me.
interesting that you say that, too
many people here in the UK we
associate Oxfam with the word
charity, because they run charity
shops where you can donate clothing
and other things and they can be
sold on to give you funds for your
eight and humanitarian work. -- your
aid. But it isn't often associated
with struggle, is it an easy
It is, because behind that
word charity is a very radical idea
that humanity is one and injustices
must be challenged and fought. We
trace our roots to radicals who
challenged Winston Churchill on the
war that was going on and wanted to
take food aid to people who are
starving and they challenged and we
have been challenging since.
Challenge power. Interesting,
because in recent times you have
appeared to rail against the notion
of charity given by the rich to the
poor, you said that we don't think
charity is the way to solve these
problems, you are not going to lift
everybody out of poverty through the
kindness of wealthy people. Is
charity outmoded to a certain
No, it is that outmoded.
This era of solidarity, kindness and
sharing is what drives what we do.
But what I was saying is that Oxfam
tackles the root causes of poverty
and that lies in powerlessness. So
we challenge political leaders,
economical leaders, business leaders
to do justice for the poor, but to
give them handouts but to do
Your version of Justice
sometimes trades into controversial
political territorial. If I look at
some of the campaigns that you and
Oxfam have run, you have run
campaigns for fair taxation, you
have run campaigns on the minimum
wage, you know, these in the British
political context had certain
political connotations which, it has
to be said, has got Oxfam into
trouble. For example, December 2014,
the Charity commission decided that
some of Oxfam's tweeting had carried
a political bias.
Yes, sometimes we
are drug, told by authorities that
we are crossing a line. But we are
political, with a small p, we tackle
where powerlessness starts and where
power is abused. We tackle
governments and we tackle companies.
Among the examples that you gave,
you should have mentioned that we
faced off pharmaceutical companies
to bring down the price of
antiretrovirals to save the lives of
millions of people dying. This needs
a challenge and we challenge.
tempted to ask you if that is the
perception that you bring to your
work, why not actually be a
politician? Occurs in the end,
sitting as you do at the end of
Oxfam International, you can have a
powerful lobbying voice but you
cannot will the levers of power,
whereas if you chose a political
career and this knows, back home in
Uganda, there are many who would
think that you have a very strong
chance of political success, if you
did then you could pull the levers
of power yourself.
Let me tell you
something. Political leaders can
only be as good as the people of the
citizens are active. It is so
important that we raise the voice of
citizens, that we support citizens
to hold their leaders accountable
and hold this is accountable for
good practice. So what I am doing
now, today is leading a global
organisation that fuels, that power
was movements on the grounds of
citizens to push their governments
to be just and to deliver to them.
With focus on what you have said
about your role, which is very much
about political messages, about
campaigning, about activism. But
what you didn't say is that it is
also about delivering very real and
urgent humanitarian assistance on
the ground. I wonder whether you
sometimes worry that the money used
and has Oxfam on the campaigning,
the lobbying, the powerful political
messages, that money is being taken,
in essence, from the humanitarian
funds that you have two help people
in Yemen, Bangladesh, all sorts of
different urgent pressing crises
today, that is a hugely difficult
moral decision to take, is it?
really. It is not a difficult
decision. As I said, take the case
of conflict. Conflict happens and we
rush there and we save lives because
we want to save lives. What we know
that the solution to a conflict is
to find a peaceful solution to the
issues that are driving the
conflict, so we must tackle the root
cause is as well. If you take the
example of Yemen, it is the worst
humanitarian disaster in the world
today, 7 million people on the verge
of starvation. Berwick is a cholera
outbreak. We are there with water
sanitation and food and everything
that we can. -- there is. But we
also must speak up, we must campaign
and push those governance to fight
for a political solution of peace in
the Yemen. We challenge the British
government that is on the one hand
giving aid, the second-biggest
donor, but which is also selling
arms to Saudi Arabia which arms are
being used to kill them. So we speak
forcefully and challenging the
British government on that. Stopped
There are many others
delivering that message on arms
sales to Saudi Arabia, Westminster
Parliament and many other political
lobbying groups, my question is that
why does Oxfam need to do that?
Given that you have the facility and
the manpower and the know-how to
actually use every pound that is
given to you to help people on the
ground, is it right that you spend
some of that money on political
campaigning that others would do in
because we come with the credibility
to speak on those issues. We are on
the ground. Before I came here I was
having a meeting with some of the
people who are on the ground in
Bangladesh, inside the country and I
know the picture, I know what is
going on. In many spaces Oxfam is
invited there to speak because we
bring the voice, and authentic voice
from where the problems are. So if I
can share with you, this year I went
to a roundtable at the United
Nations with the Secretary General,
with prime ministers, I was coming
right out of Nigeria where there is
famine in that rich countries. And I
could talk about the creeping
famines across South Sudan, Nigeria,
Somalia and Yemen because I have
been to those countries.
because Oxfam is one of the very
biggest and most respected of the
International aid, humanitarian
organisations. I wonder if there is
time for a rethink...
What we spend
on our campaigning is 10% of our
total budget, what we spend on
humanitarian crisis is almost half
of our budget.
You, in the end, are
one of the big fish, one of the big
multinationals, maybe it is time for
a rethink, maybe it is time for you
to accept, that your day, if not
done, is perhaps not the future?
Because it your own reporting on
this, for example a report from
2015, turning the humanitarian
system on its head, emphasised the
need to get much more local. That
local as was the best way of
delivering real support to
communities on the ground.
Absolutely. In fact, we are
committed. Oxfam has committed that
by 2020 we will be channelling 30%
of the money that we get for
humanitarian crisis through local
actors because they are the first
responders, they know that context,
they can deliver better. So will we
are out there, training our local
partners to take more and more
responsibility for preparedness and
a full response when it is needed.
powerful sentence from that report,
simply put, it said, we are not
saving as many lives as we could. Is
that still true today?
Of course we
would like to save all lies. We
always struggle at Oxfam and are
striving for higher and higher
impact. When you say that, that
talks to our DNA. We are impatient
for a world where there is no
poverty or suffering.
implication was that your systems
all your approach wasn't quite
Of course, we are looking for
improvements and in the last five
years I have headed Oxfam, after we
formed our humanitarian system to
make it more effective and efficient
at the truth is, the humanitarian
crisis around the world of the speed
at which and the frequency and
intensity of disasters, the
protracted miss of conflicts, we
cannot meet the need. We really must
find solutions to prevent, we must
do more preventative work.
way that you can be more quicker on
the ground and more flexible, moving
the international headquarters to
Nairobi to place it in the global
Yes, that is part of the change
that is making us more rooted
in the work that we do.
It just cannot be right
that we save lives and we solve
problems of poverty from 4000
miles away, Stephen...
Is there something neocolonialists
about the attitude that you see
in some of the Western-based
international aid organisations?
Well, I can say that there
is a danger of becoming less
and less relevant if organisations
that were born in the north
and became global continue to make
the decisions to do their work
from the north.
We are moving our headquarters
to the south so that we are rooted
there, so that we speak
with the legitimacy from where
the struggles are.
Have you been stung by the degree
to which certain African leaders,
and I am thinking of Paul Kagame,
the president of Rwanda,
but also, actually interestingly,
your host now, the president
of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta,
they have expressed openly said
-- their doubts that international
aid is doing an effective job
helping the poorer African nations.
Just quote Uhuru Kenyatta,
he tweeted this, he said,
"Dependence on giving which only
appears to be charitable must end.
Foreign aid, which heard so often
carries terms and conditions that
preclude progress, is not
an acceptable basis
for a prosperity and freedom.
It is time to give it up."
There are two things there -
one, the big picture.
aid is only a small part of it.
Today, the developing countries,
the domestic investments,
together with government revenues,
is a 7.5 times more than the total
sum of flows which include aid,
foreign direct investment,
remittances, loans, all that
so domestic revenues are very
important and they are growing
and it is important though
to understand that aid,
even though it is one part,
has a very important part to play.
Take the 47 fragile countries,
47 of them, fragile,
poor countries, for those,
aid is the largest aid flow
externally. They need that aid
But what about those who say that
giving aid to the very poorest
countries, often props up
governments whose record
on governance and striving
for economic efficiency
and delivering real economic
benefits to their people is horrible
and that aid sustains them.
There is a point in what you say
because aid should be used
for purposes of strengthening
the institutions of government
and strengthening the capacity
of citizens to hold government
So the purpose of aid is important
that it is channelled to the poorest
who are not reached by markets,
who are not reached by private
capital, that it is used
to strengthen tax collections
so that countries get on their feet
and raise enough resources,
that it is used to support
the strengthening of civil society
voices to hold
We have to use aids aid for those
purposes, for it to deliver the
autonomy, the financial autonomy
that governments want.
There is one specific thing that
I want to put to you and it has come
out in recent days as a result,
bizarrely, the scandal
in the United States
concerning Harvey Weinstein
and allegations of very
serious sexual abuse.
It has since transpired that a lot
of female workers in the aid
and development business have,
it seems, experienced abuse
themselves from other members,
male members of staff,
over the years and,
including staff at Oxfam.
It seems you have had,
in the last year, a very significant
rise in the number of allegations
made against your own male staff.
I'm tempted to ask,
with a degree of surprise,
what on earth is going on that seems
to make this sort of abuse systemic
even in the humanitarian
You know, that is a matter that's
very close to my heart,
Throughout my career, I have been
working to defend women's rights.
It's true, Oxfam should be doing
more to protect them
-- women who work for Oxfam.
Your former director in Nigeria,
going back to the thousand and ten,
made allegations of abuse
against another senior member
of Oxfam staff.
She said those allegations
were never addressed and,
not long afterwards, she was fired.
It does seem there is a problem,
even in your own organisation.
Well, as I said, we
should be doing better.
We should be doing better
but let me be clear that,
one, a norm has changed
in the world - American women have
stood up and have raised
the question about safety for women
in the workplace.
We've been working
at it for a long time.
We're not where we should be
but we have something in place that
has been working and some
of this reporting, Stephen,
is a result of the transparency
that we put in place,
starting five years ago,
when we boosted our system
and started a system of reporting
transparently the cases.
I want to end by bringing
you back to Uganda,
which is where we begin,
where we talked about the roots
of your commitment to the struggle.
For 11 years, you were a Ugandan
parliamentarian working quite
closely with President Museveni.
He is now seeking constitutional
change which would allow him to run
for another presidential term,
even though, according
to the current constitution,
he would be too oldin 2021 to run
again, and you have chosen to speak
out against any change
in the Constitution.
Well, first of all, I must correct
you that wasn't working closely
with him as a parliamentarian.
I was a critical parliamentarian...
You were at the beginning.
Because if I may say so,
you've had a long personal
relationship with him...
..you were close to him and indeed
so was your husband many years.
That is true.
We were in the revolution
against dictatorship together but,
increasingly, as I became
a Member of Parliament,
I disagreed and
eventually broke away.
Why I am racing my voice now on this
issue is that this issue of changing
the Constitution in order to extend
the possibility of a president
who has been in power 35
years, to stay longer...
And we should remind people
he would be 77 at the next election.
It is not a partisan issue.
This is a citizen issue.
This is where Oxon's voice
I think is important,
to energise the citizens to speak up
in defence of the Constitution.
We made this Constitution -
I was one of the Constitution
makers - it was the most
consultative, participatory way
and we put in these checks
in the Constitution so that
presidents do not use incumbency
to entrench themselves in power.
Now, he did remove one
constitutional check and now
he wants to remove the one in age
limits so it is important that
I speak so that Ugandans
also rise and speak
and defend their Constitution.
But you speak as the head
of Oxfam International but the truth
is, you have a major vested interest
in it because your husband happens
to be the leading political
opponent, who has long fought
President Museveni and has fought
to beat him in various presidential
elections so, for you,
this is deeply personal.
Are you so you should be mixing
the professional and personal
in the way that you have chosen?
Look, I am a citizen of my country.
I cannot be credible
in my own country when I do not
speak on an issue that is
so important for the future
of our young people,
for our economy.
I have to make my statement and then
leave it for Ugandans to go ahead
and fight it.
I do not express myself
on the side of the opposition
or the side of the
government as I said.
This is a strictly citizen issue
and people across both
sides are speaking...
There are members would like you
to go back and be the main
opposition candidate in the 2021
election. Are you considering doing
Look, it would be an honour to
be asked to lead my country but,
right now, I am enjoying an even
bigger honour to support the voices
of citizens around the world,
to stand up for economic justice.
So 2021 is a little way away.
Are you telling me that
you are categorically ruling it out
or is it a possibility?
There are many people
in your country that
would like clear answer to this.
As I said, it would be an honour
to be asked to lead the country
but right now, I'm happy to tell
you that I have just
signed my second contract at Oxfam,
to serve my organisation for the
next five years so my plan,
I'm not looking at the Ugandan
context, I'm looking
at serving Oxfam right now.
We will have to end there.
Winnie Byanyima thank you very much
for being on HARDtalk.
Thank you so much.
Stephen Sackur speaks to Winnie Byanyima, the Ugandan boss of Oxfam International who is overseeing the NGO's move from the UK to Kenya. A significant shift is afoot in the world of international development. More of the decision-making power is being located in the global south, closer to the frontline in the war on poverty. There is less talk of aid, more of empowerment, self-help and local solutions. Is international development currently unfit for purpose?