"I'm Not Hungry For Food, I'm Hungry For Justice" : An Interview With Frederick Wangabo Mwenengabo
Introduction: Words from ACIC’s HR Intern Jessie-Lynn Cross
Ambassador Frederick Wangabo Mwenengabo is the ACIC Board Co-Chair. He is also the Executive Director of the East and Central African Association for Indigenous Rights (ECAAIR). In our interview, we discussed how he joined the ACIC, what ECCAIR has done to further the progression of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and his 48-day hunger strike. Overall, his human rights work is remarkable. When I sat down with him, I noticed that he has this talent that makes everyone around him feel inspired and special. ECCAIR advances peoples' well-being, peace, and human rights through education and activities in Canada, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Learn more about ECCAIR here.
Interview with Ambassador Frederick Wangabo Mwenengabo
How has your work with ECAAIR and the UN added to the work you do as the Chair of the ACIC?
At ECCAIR, we work with First Nations, newcomers, visible minorities, and francophones communities here in New Brunswick. In the Global South, we work with victims of traumatic events. Our work is to promote health, human rights, and peace. So, to do our work, we empower people to earn for themselves and be the captains of their own destiny. That should be the center of international cooperation. I learn all these through the work I do and bring it to ACIC, and I also learn from my colleagues' experiences in international cooperation. The experiences are diverse, so learning from each other has been of mutual benefit.
The work of the UN has been an asset. I'm well informed with what the international community is doing. There is room for innovation, but we can only be innovative if we're informed. So, we work within the lines and create networks. The work is connected to the SDGs, so it's important to bring those principles to ACIC.
How were you appointed the title of "Ambassador" at the UN? Could you also tell us about the Nobel Peace Prize nominations?
At the UN, I have been granted the title of UN Ambassador twice. The first time was in 2005 when participating in consultations that created the Indigenous Declaration of Rights, which ended in 2008. The second time was given by civil society organizations in 2013. They had voted for me to represent them at the UN to be their voice.
I've been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. There are many people who do a lot of good work, and they deserved it. It was a great time. I thank the people who found my work important and nominated me. I know that my work wouldn't have been possible or as important without them.
Can you discuss the 48-day hunger strike you launched in the Democratic Republic of Congo?
The 48-day hunger strike..., it was a difficult moment. What led me to do the hunger strike is the suffering of the Congolese people, with over 6,000,000 Congolese women and children slaughtered or killed. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the poorest country on Earth, with a budget of five billion dollars a year. Most of the budget goes to paying corrupt leaders' salaries. The UN has not been willing to bring a tribunal or sanction those who commit the crimes. In 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that he was not going to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth because of the human rights abuses on Sri Lankans. But in that same year, we were having the Francophonie Summit in Congo. They knew what was going on in Congo but still decided against doing anything about the human rights crimes and still planned to attend the Summit. I decided to go on a hunger strike, and I wrote down what they should do. I was ready to live or die. I had written my last will and said I shouldn't be fed because I'm not sick, and I'm not hungry for food. I'm hungry for justice.
When I was taken back home from the hospital, the government started telling me to end the hunger strike. I refused because there were some conditions to me ending my hunger strike. I wanted them to commit the rebel leaders, should reinforce the UN mission to be a combatant, and the Prime Minister should send a delegation prior to the Francophonie to talk to the Congolese and the Rwandan government. They did that. They even had the resolution that was sent by 75 nations to remove the rebel movement peacefully. A general who was humiliating women and children was forced to resign from the Congolese army and surrendered to the International Criminal Court (ICC). He was condemned at the ICC. Freedom comes with a price, and I had no option if it means I had to forget the lives of others to consider my own. That is the synopsis of my hunger strike.
What SDGs have you worked on to achieve either domestically or internationally? Have you faced any challenges in pursuing these SDGs or your human rights work?
The work we do, it interconnects with all the SDGs. For example, we ask communities to identify members who are in poverty or victims of traumatic events in a group of five to ten people to unite them and come up with a program like raising ten piglets in their group. They generate income for themselves, they have food which helps poverty and hunger, and the income to pay for health services. The community that you developed in the program increases your mental well-being and is your economic community.
Some countries we operate in are dictatorial regimes. They don't want to listen, people not believing that a woman is equal to a man, and corruption, which is challenging. There is also limited funding because of racism and COVID. It is not easy, but some supporters and funders want to do something good. We have been affected by COVID, we have been trying to work hard with our partners and volunteers to overcome this, but we are used to meeting in person. If the resources were there, we could find other innovative ways to do things, but some people cannot afford things, and without the in-person aspect, it is really difficult to do our work effectively
What has ACIC done well for you and your human rights work with ECCAIR? How can ACIC help you during these times?
We have been working well with ACIC, and they have been supportive. We just finished a program with youth called Photovoice through Zoom, where we talked about the SDGs using photos. Youth from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Canada and Guyana spoke about what is happening to them through photos. It's interesting because you get to see how they view poverty or gender-based violence. We also have been learning from ACIC on how we can work in the pandemic, and they are providing the information for small organizations who may not have the resources. ACIC is the best at representing us and should keep doing what they are doing so we can still work together.
Disclaimer: This blog is created from the transcript of an interview between the member and ACIC’s human rights intern, and is edited for consistency, while staying true to what was discussed.