Monday, August 08, 2016

Congratulations Majlinda Kelmendi of Kosovo a on winning Gold at the Olympics in Rio!

Many congratulations to Majlinda Kelmendi of Kosovo and her support team on winning Gold at the Olympics in Rio

It's another milestone for Kosovo.I first visited Kosovo in 1999 in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. I was Deputy Director for Democratisation with the OSCE. Russian troops were still camped at the airport. On the drive into Pristina I noticed the roofs of nearly every building had been smashed. Buildings in the town of Gjakova and many other parts of Kosovo had been utterly destroyed in the conflict. I met women and men across Kosovo who had come through appalling experiences. Thanks to the energy of many Kosovars combined with international support much has changed for the better. It is still work in progress and mistakes have been made along the way, but now it's time to celebrate! Sending all Kosovar friends warmest wishes of congratulations.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Female role models - '50 Bedtime Stories to Inspire Girls.'

It's been a week of female role models in UK politics. On TV we saw the new British Prime  Minister Teresa May's first meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and with Scottish Nationalist Party Leader, Nicola Sturgeon. I am sorry to see Labour MP Angela Eagle drop out of the leadership race for Leader of the Labour Party. I was invited to review a book of female role models from around the world titled '50 Bedtime stories to inspire girls,' compiled by Lisa Hill. This book is for children. I am not a child so I invited my Grand daughter Daisy to review the book. Daisy is 7 years old and loves reading books. She also loves writing book reviews. Below  is Daisy's review of '50 bedtime stories to inspire girls.'

'50 bedtime stories to inspire girls'  
Author: Lisa Hill   
Illustrator: Vlada Repeykova

 I really liked how she explained what each lady did or when she was born or when she died. I also loved the illustrations they were bold, bright and they popped with colour. I think this was a great book and recommend it to girls 6+ and would totally read the second book if there ever was one.

My favourite woman was Germaine Greer because she wrote for magazines about woman’s equality. The reason I liked her is because I like making magazines myself. I also liked J.K. Rowling because she wrote the Harry Potter books and I really like them.
In my opinion I think there shouldn’t be any royals that didn’t do very much because the only reason they became famous was because they were a royal.

By: Daisy H

Monday, May 23, 2016

Free Speech vs Feminism - an ongoing battle

The journalist and feminist in me are fighting an on-going battle. The women’s rights campaigner inside me gets angry at  sexist and discriminatory public statements. Is it better for voters to hear Donald Trump’s (what many consider to be appalling) attitudes towards women, Mexicans and Muslims, or should we banish him and other politicians and speakers from the public forum, and thus not know what they are thinking?…..'

On the other hand as a journalist and a democrat I am a firm believer of free speech and believe that a citizen’s right to freedom of expression within public discourse is a precious right to be nurtured. My article on Feminism versus Free Speech has  just been published and can be found here:

The article also refers to , 'Hate speech and Democratic Citizenship' by Eric Heinze, Professor of Law and Humanities at Queen Mary University of London. He says, the more a country is a genuinely developed democracy, the less it needs to impose 'speech bans'.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Anti-Muslim prejudice is a major concern in both Donald Trump's and Ted Cruz's campaigns.

The following e-mail was sent to me by US journalist and friend Arnold Isaacs:

It's a challenge to single out any one toxic issue from the current
Republican presidential mudfight, but it's worth noting that ugly and
dangerous anti-Muslim prejudice is a major concern in both Donald
Trump's and Ted Cruz's campaigns.

Trump's call to bar Muslims from entering the country has gotten most of
the headlines. But there are many more stories that should have had more
attention than they've received, showing among other things that Ted
Cruz is NOT the lesser evil in this regard. Cruz's naming some of the
most fanatical members of the Islamophobe network to his team of
advisors is an example. It drew some critical comments when he announced
the list but as far as I could tell was pretty much a one-day story, and
the reporting I saw did not come close to explaining how shocking his
choices really were.

Exhibit A is retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who has said things such as
"Islam is evil. Islam is an evil concept," "Islam is not a religion and
does not deserve First Amendment protections," and "those following the
dictates of the Quran are under an obligation to destroy our
Constitution and replace it with shari'a law.” He's also declared that
Christians should "go on the offensive" to prevent Muslims in America
from building any more mosques.

(Not directly on this topic but I can't resist noting that Boykin also
preached a couple of years ago that when Jesus returns, he will be
carrying an AR-15 assault rifle. Not a joke. You can listen to it at
-- and ask yourself, are you reassured that a possible U.S. president is
listening to this guy's advice on foreign policy? Or on anything?)

Cruz also named Frank Gaffney and a couple of his colleagues from his
Center for Security Policy, one of the major-league anti-Muslim
organizations, which specializes in dire warnings about the imminent
danger that Muslims will impose shari'a law on the United States.
Gaffney has said that Muslims who observe shari'a should be prosecuted
for sedition. He advocates banning "not just refugees, but anyone coming
in under any immigration program from Syria and Iraq"; all immigration
from a list of other countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia,
Somalia, Libya, and Afghanistan; and a moratorium on ALL refugee

As I said, there was a bit of tongue-clucking from the pundit tribe when
Cruz announced those appointments, but it was pretty transitory. That
tells something about the different yardstick the media and our society
in general apply to anti-Muslim views as opposed to bias against other
minorities. I am pretty sure that if Cruz had named someone with a
comparable record of bigotry toward Jews or African Americans, the
outrage and outcry would have been far more intense and lasted a lot

As to Trump, it's striking that the one story with staying power has
been his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, while other
more outrageous statements are mentioned much more sporadically. At the
top of my list is his saying he would "take out" terrorists' families --
and that not doing so is "fighting a very politically correct war."
Personally I think that is the single worst thing he or anyone has said
in this campaign. (Worth noting that he backed it up with one of his
most blatant lies, about the 9/11 hijackers sending their families out
of the country -- a story he has repeated even after it was conclusively
shown to be false.) The second worst statement is Trump's enthusiastic
endorsement of torture -- "Believe me, it works... If it doesn’t work,
they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.”

I'm not sure why embracing those flagrantly illegal and immoral policies
has gotten so much less coverage than banning Muslim entry to the
country. Maybe it's because the latter ties more directly to the
immigration issue, which has raised broader public concern. But it's
hard to avoid a sense that bigotry against Muslims is fairly widely
accepted as a legitimate viewpoint, compared to prejudice against other

This is not only troubling about our values. It is also dangerous on
completely practical grounds. Just about all real terrorism experts will
tell you that anti-Islamic attitudes and actions will not lead to more
effective counter-terror efforts, but exactly the opposite. Treating
Muslim communities as a potential enemy population reinforces the
extremist narrative. It says exactly what they want Muslims here and
around the world to believe -- that America is at war with Islam and
Muslims have to strike back. We are safer when Muslims in this country
feel accepted and respected, trust American law enforcement and identify
with American institutions. We are less safe when we alienate Muslims by
public hostility and suspicion and repressive policies. Those make the
extremist argument more credible and will make people more reluctant to
cooperate with anti-terror authorities. Trump and Cruz may win some
votes by playing to people's fears, but the attitudes and policies they
support help the jihadists, not public safety.

There are very few if any Trump or Cruz supporters in my address book,
so this mailing will largely be preaching to the choir. But I think it's
an important message, and if any of you can find useful places to
deliver it, I hope you'll do so.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Women in politics in Egyptian Elections 2015

Here is a summary about women in 2015 Parliamentary elections prepared by the The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights - ECWR

Fighters On The Individual System, Warriors On the Electoral Lists
Edited by
Nehad Abol-Komsan
ECWR Chairwoman
Egypt’s Parliamentary election is the third and final step of Egypt’s roadmap that was set after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi after mass protests in 2013.
The electoral marathon started off with liquidity of parties as the number of political parties in Egypt after the January 25 revolution was estimated at 104. Nonetheless, Most of those parties did not succeed in creating populist bases. Moreover, a number of party leaders withdrew from running in Parliament, reducing the party’s chances of winning seats in Parliament.
Within this context, and since the announcement of the start of the preparation for the Parliamentary elections, many coalitions were dissolved before the decision of postponing elections and after, also new coalitions were formed. There were several conflicts and withdrawals within the parliamentary coalitions mostly due to disagreements on the number of seats.
The administrative court deemed that the decision of former PM Ibrahim Mehleb to redistribute some electoral district as invalid in addition to order another medical check up to even those who took it. This put more financial burden on the candidates. The Court’s verdicts caused more confusion.
The verdict led some lists as “Sahwet Masr”, translated as “Egypt Awakens”, and Social Justice Coalition and individual candidates to withdraw, in addition to some coalitions threatening withdrawal. This verdict increased the financial burden on female candidates allowing capital to lead the way.
The Law No. 46/2014 of the House of Representatives stipulated the presence of 56 women on the electoral lists as well as 14 women as presidential appointees ensuring a total of70 women in Parliament.
As Article 5 of the law of the House of Representatives stated that, as the translated in the official Gazette:
In the first elections of the House of Representatives following the entry into force of this law, each list for which 15 seats are allocated must at least include the following numbers and designations:
– Three candidates who are Christian.
– Two candidates who are workers or farmers.
– Two candidates who are youths.
– A candidate who is a person with a disability.
– A candidate who is an Egyptian residing abroad.
Provided that the candidates with the above-listed designations along with other candidates include no less than seven women.
Each list for which 45 seats are allocated must at least include the following numbers anddesignations:
– Nine candidates who are Christian.
– Nine candidates who are workers or farmers.
– Six candidates who are youths.
– Three candidates who are persons with disabilities.
– Three candidates who are Egyptians residing abroad.
Provided that the candidates with the above-listed designations along with other candidates include no less than twenty-one women.

In addition, according to Article 27 of the law of House of Representatives: The President of the Republic may appoint to the House a number of members not exceeding 5% of the number of elected members, half of whom at least shall be Women.
Nonetheless, the law disregarded allocating individual seats for women leading women to suffer from a law disregarding their candidacy on individual seats which account for 80% of the Parliament seats, given it have her an acceptable representation in around 20% of the seats and the financial burden of the individual candidacy.
It is as if the law came to throw dust in one’s eye.In reality, the law does not further women’s representation in the Parliament; it does not allocate women seats in 80% of the Parliament. Decision makers did not care about having a Parliament properly and adequately representing women and their contributions in society.
The total of female candidates are 652 women, out of which 279 running for individual seats out of a total of 5420 candidates, amounting to only 5.1%.
Meanwhile, there was has been 376 female candidates out of a total of 780 representing to 48.2 %.
Thereby, the total number of candidates is 652 female candidates out of a total 6200 candidates running on the electoral lists and individual lists in the Parliamentary elections 2015, representing 10.03%.
As for political parties’ nomination of women,
It seems the political parties settled for the quota stipulated by the Parliamentary law, as most of the political parties either did not nominate woman for individual seats or nominated a limited number of women.
According to ECWR statistics, 23 political parties did not nominate any woman as individual candidates. Meanwhile, Wafd party, which nominated the highest number of women, nominated only 9 women out of a total of 149 candidates for individual seats.
As for the electoral lists, all of them with the exception of National Reawakening bloc settled for the minimum number of female candidates according to the law. The number of female candidates on the main lists was 135 out of a total of 285 candidates with a percentage of 47%.
Regarding the media coverage of female candidates, small news coverage cared about them in quality and quantity. Many news pieces did not properly focus on female candidates’ problems and obstacles as the news headlines just focused on the low numbers of female candidates. There was also conflicting news on the number of female candidates in different candidates, which came as part of the inaccuracy of the news coverage of the electoral process.
Report Methodology
The report was based on a number of research methodologies and documentation, including:
– Monitoring reports of ECWR’s Operating Room
– Data and reports of the High Elections Committee (HEC).
– Media reports from a number of newspapers varying from governmental, privately owned and partisan. There are El Watan, Al Akhbar, Al Wafd, Nisf El Donya magazine, Parlmany website, Youm7 website, Al Masry Al Youm website site, Al Shorouk website. Al Tahrir website
– Direct contact and phone calls with potential female candidates to collect data and make sure whether they are running for Parliament or not.
– Personal interviews with some female candidates.
Challenges faced in the preparation of this report
– There is no gender segregated data produced by the HEC. Given that the HEC is the institution responsible to present accurate information on the number of female and male candidates. This put extra burden on ECWR operation room, which took on itself to produce gender segregated, numbers and percentages of women’s candidacy.
- There are some errors in the number of women on the published electoral lists in some newspapers, in addition to some spelling mistakes. This hindered the identification of the candidate in some cases. In these cases, ECWR operation room had to check the number of female candidates.
Report’s Division:
The report consists of:• First: History of women’s political participation
• Second: Legislative environment for 2015 Parliamentary elections
• Third: The Nomination Phase for 2015 Parliamentary elections, from a gender perspective
• Fourth: Voting & Results Round
• Recommendations
• Annexes
First: History of women’s political participation Egyptian women and Parliament:
Egyptian women preceded women in all Arab countries in the field of parliamentary representation. Egyptian women’s participation in parliamentary representation in the legislative assemblies began in the mid-twentieth century when women entered Parliament for the first time as a MP in 1957. However, despite the fact that it has beenalmost half a century since Egyptian women entered parliament, women’s participation in parliamentis still weak.
The stages that women went through to seek political rights can be summarized in five stages in addition to the current one:
– First stage 1956 – 1970The 1957 elections witnessed 8 women running for Parliament, with two women winning who are RawyaAttia and Amina Shoukry
– Second stage 1970 – 1986This stage witnessed 1309 women becoming members of the basic units of the Socialist Union in 1971. Afterwards, the law no 38/ 1972 was amended to allocate 30 seats in Parliament for women, with at least one seat per governorate for women. This resulted in 35 female MPs amounting to 8% out of total seats of Parliament; 30 of out them won through allocated seats, 2 through general seats and 2 appointed, out of the 10 presidential appointees.
– Third stage 1986 – 2005Even though the quota was dissolved in 1986, women’s representation in Parliament remained relatively high. Women’s representation in 1987 House of Representative was 3.9% as it reached 18 female MP out of a total of 456 MP. This is attributed to the electoral party lists as some lists included women. Yet, with the individual system, women’s representation declined in the successive Parliaments during this period. In 2005 Parliament, there were only 8 female MPs, with a percentage of 1.8% out of the total number of MPs.
– Four stage 2009 – 2010During this stage, the law no. 149/2009 was issued increasing the number of Parliamentary constituencies and allocating 64 seats for women in Parliament as well as women can run for general seats.
In 2010, the total number of female candidates is 456, out of which there is 380 women quota out of which 380 women on women’s seats, 249 independent seats in addition to 76 female candidates on general seats. 64 women won and one presidential appointee reaching a total of number 65 women in Parliament.
– Fifth stage: After 25 January 2011 till 2013The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a law amendment cancelling women’s quota. Instead, it stipulated that there should be at least one woman on the electoral lists without determiningher position on the list. Hence, in the light of this law, the 2011- 2012 Parliamentary elections was held with only 11 women winning in the House of Representatives; 9 elected and 2 presidential appointees. Meanwhile, in the Shura Council, the upper house at the time, only 4 women won. All were on the electoral lists except for one was on individual seat s.
– Sixth stage: 2014After the June 30 revolution in 2013, the Shura Council was dissolved and the 2014 Constitution was issued. This Constitution is considered one of the best Constitutions with regards to women’s rights. It included gains for women in the different thresholds of political, civil, economic and social rights.
There are 3 legal frameworks regulating the electoral process of the House of Representatives, which are:
– 2014 Constitution
– Law No. 46/2014 of the House of Representatives
– Law No. 202/2014 Concerning Electoral Districting for the Elections of the House of Representatives
– Law No. 45/2014 on the Regulation of the Exercise of Political Rights
According to those laws, the Parliamentary elections should have been held during March and April 2015. However, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled at the end of February 2015 that division of the electoral constituencies is invalid after all candidates already submitted their paper to the High Elections Committee.
This led to:
– Delay of the electoral process till the law of electoral constituencies is amended
– Reopening the door for candidacy again
– Redo the medical check on all candidates even those who already did it
– Withdrawal of Egypt Awakens bloc, and Social justice bloc from the election in objection on the redoing of the medical checks
President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi ratified the amendments of Law No. 202/2014 Concerning Electoral Districting for the Elections of the House of Representatives on 9 July, 2015 thus paving the way for the long-delayed polls to be held.It divides Egypt into 205 individual electoral constituencies and four geographical constituencies for closed party lists.
The House of Representatives will be composed of 596 MPs. Out of the total, 448 will be elected as independents, 120 as party-based deputies, and 28 will be appointed by the president. Thus, the elections system is a mixed system of individual candidacy system and winner-take-all party.
The individual candidacy system focuses on independents. According to it, the country is divided to several electoral constituencies with each electoral district selecting one or two MPs to represent it.This system privileged with the MP’s increased commitment to his/her small constituency. It also gives the opportunity for the candidacy of both; independent or party affiliated.
As for winner-take-all party, it depends on selecting one of the lists competing on the four geographical constituencies.
The 2014 Constitution has set the representation of some groups as the following:
Article (11)
The State shall ensure the achievement of equality between women and men in all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
The State shall take the necessary measures to ensure the appropriate representation of women in the houses of representatives, as specified by Law.
Articles 243 and 244 in Transitional Provisions Section in the 2014 Constitution
Article (243)
The State shall endeavor that workers and farmers be appropriately represented in the first House of Representatives to be elected after this Constitution is approved, as regulated by law.
Article (244)
The State shall endeavor that youth, Christians, persons with disability and Egyptians living abroad be appropriately represented in the first House of Representatives to be elected after this Constitution is approved, as regulated by law.
According to the previous articles, it is highlighted that the Constitution ensured the minimum representation for some groups. Article (11) stipulates an “appropriate” representation of women in elected councils. This article is a central one in Basic Components of the Society Part in the Constitution. Consequently, this applies on the Parliament and other councils. As the representation of other groups as workers, Christians, people with disabilities and Egyptians living abroad in the Transitional Provisions Part and thereby, it implies a temporary representation only applicable on the upcoming Parliament.
The following diagram shows the number of members of the House of Representatives according to the law:
chart 1

According to the election law, 20% of the seats are dedicated to party-lists system, and 80% are for individual seats.

chart 2

Second: The legislative enviroment and women’s representation in 2015 Parliament
The law no. 46/2014 of the House of Representatives allocated 56 seats for women on party lists, in addition to half of the presidential appointees, which counts for around 13 or 14 women. Thus, this guarenteed 70 seats for women in the Parliament, beside individual seats.
This law was as a result of the lobbying efforts of women’s rights civil society organizations and the National Council for Women (NCW) to attain the best representation of women in the Parliament. As there is no exact constitutional article that attains a fair representation of women in Parliament. In Article (5) of the law no. 46/2014 of the House of Representatives states that in the first elections of the House of Representatives following the entry into force of this law, each list for which 15 seats are allocated must at least include the following numbers and designations:
Three candidates who are Christian.
Two candidates who are workers or farmers.
Two candidates who are youths.
A candidate who is a person with a disability.
A candidate who is an Egyptian residing abroad.

chart 3
Each list for which 45 seats are allocated must at least include the following numbers and designations:
– Nine candidates who are Christian.
– Nine candidates who are workers or farmers.
– Six candidates who are youths.
– Three candidates who are persons with disabilities.
– Three candidates who are Egyptians residing abroad.

chart 4
Article (27) of the law also stated:
“The President of the Republic may appoint to the House a number of members not exceeding 5% of the number of elected members, half of whom at least shall be Women,..”
Hence, there are at least around 70 seats for women on party lists, thus the representation of women rises from 2% in 2011 Parliament to around 12.5% in 2015 Parliament.

From the previous presentation, the following results are drawn:
– Christians quota: 24 MPs
– Workers and peasants quota: 16 MPs
– Youth quota: 16 MPs
– People with disabilities quota: 8 MPs
– Egyptians living abroad: 8 MPs
– Women’s quota: 56 MPs
It is worth mentioning that ECWR submitted a proposal to support women running for individual seats to the legal committee to amend the Law on the Regulation of the Exercise of Political Rights in May 2014. This proposal aimed to further women’s participation on individual seats level. The draft law proposed that there would be one seat for women for each individual electoral constituency; there will be two male MPs and 1 female MP. In addition, the electoral constituencies would have to be re-divided to be relatively larger than the current single-member constituencies in a manner that ensure consistency in the geographical border and the electoral environment, yet it would be bounded by administrative division of each governorate.
This proposal aimed at overcoming the great expenditure problem that female candidates faced and still face in the 2015 Parliamentary elections. The high financial cost constituted a great obstacle for female candidates especially after the administrative court verdict to conduct again the medical checkup. This decision reinforced capital as the driving force this election as it led many individual female candidates to withdraw.
Third: The Nomination Phase for 2015 Parliamentary elections, from a gender perspective2011 elections progress on the level of electoral process, 2015 elections progress based on results:
In a quick comparison between 2011 elections of The People’s Assembly, the lower house at the time when the Egyptian system was bicameral, and 2015 elections of The House of Representatives; we find that there has been progress in 2011 electoral process yet without achieving results, as for the first the time since 1956 the number of female candidates rose to 984 from a total of 8415 candidates, out of which 351 female candidates on individual seats out of a total of 4847 candidates and 633 female candidates on party lists from a total of 3566 candidates.
Elections 2011 witnessed also progress of the governorates of the “conservative” south and “tribal” border governorates in support of women, reaching the highest nomination of women on the party lists in the governorates of North Sinai and Aswan with the ratio of women on party lists by 28.8%, 28%, followed by the New Valley border governorate by 27%, which is characterized by tribal nature. Luxor came by 25% as well as the governorates of Red Sea, Suez and Ismailia by 25%. It is worth noting that the only elected woman in the Shura Council was from New Valley governorate.
Meanwhile, the Greater Cairo, which includes Cairo, Giza, Qaliubiya, has reached nominations women on the party lists 13% in Cairo governorate and 13% in Giza, and 17.7% in Qaliubiya.
The highest level of women’s nomination in on individual seats was in the following governorates; Port Said and Red Sea governorate by 11%, and South Sinai governorate by 10%, then New Valley governorate by 7% and Giza by 5.6%. The lowest for women’s nomination on the individual seats was Kafr El-Sheikh at 1.5%. While, no woman in Luxor governorate ran for individual seats.
Despite the political circumstances and security issues, it was the highest number of women’s candidacy. In the Parliamentary election of 2010, which was referred to in the media as the “golden opportunity” for women with women’s quota of 64 seats, the number of female candidates has reached 456. In 2005 Parliamentary elections, while there was no women’s quota, there were 133 female candidates.
Nonetheless, despite the high number of women candidates – 984 as mentioned above-, only 9 women secured seats in the Parliament. Out of those 9 women, there were 4 on the Freedom and Justice party list, 3 on Wafd party list, one woman of the Egyptian bloc and women from the Nasserist party resulting in 1.8%.
On the other hand, 2015 Parliamentary elections witnessed progress on the results level in spite of a decline in the number of candidates. This was a result of the women’s quota on party lists as the law of the House of Representatives entailed. This led to an increase in number of women candidates on party lists. The total of female candidates is 652 candidates out of which 276 women are running for individual seats from a total of 5420 candidates representing 5.9%. Meanwhile, 376 women were running on main and back up party-lists, out of 780 candidates representing 58.2%.Thereby, the total number of female candidates is 652 women from a total of 6200 candidate, which is the total number of candidates from both sexes for individual and party seats. Henceforth, women’s participation rate as candidates was 10.03%.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembrance Day Sierra Leone

In 2000, shortly after the rebel RUF fled the Sierra Leonean capital I was invited by the British Council to fly to Freetown. I wrote the following article for the Guardian

Remembrance  Day Sierra Leone - November 2000

'To our collective shame it is often forgotten that over 500,000 West African troops took part in World Wars 1 and 2.  In my role as a Member of the Governing Board of the British Council I attended the Remembrance Day service at the Freetown military cemetery by the sea About 250 of us stood among the haphazardly laid out gravestones in front of the memorial.  British and Sierra Leone military stood to attention in the front-rows.  We civilians stood behind them. Muslim veterans dressed in white and gold robes sat or stood beside the memorial to comrades in arms.   
British Military snipers guarded us from the top of nearby giant storage tanks. British soldiers in camouflage gear with guns at the ready surveyed the sea.  A Sierra Leone military band seated beneath the only shade-tree played Remembrance Day hymns. 

Freetown is in the same time zone as the UK, at that very moment at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and in churches and at war memorials across the United Kingdom people were choking back tears to just the same music. The helicopter-carrier HMS Ocean, anchored out in the bay, fired a gun to mark the two minutes' silence. 
When a handful of young kids paddled up in their canoes the soldiers became extra alert. They had reason to be cautious. The Revolutionary United Front rebels controlled  thousands of cocaine-addicted, scrambled-brained child soldiers. For seven years, the RUF tactic has been to raid a village and round up boys and girls aged 10 and upwards. 
The children were immediately injected in the temple with crack cocaine or skin scraped from leg or chest and the drug rubbed straight into the bloodstream. Soon after the kidnapping, drug-confused youngsters were forced to chop off a limb from one of their relatives before being taken away to be trained to fight and kill. But these local youngsters who sat quietly in their gently rocking canoes were no threat. They had simply come to listen to the singing. 

The next day, 500 troops in amphibian craft accompanied by helicopter gunship air - cover landed on the beaches of Aberdeen peninsula for a royal tournament display. I was conducting a workshop for Sierra Leone women Leaders in the British Council Hall on the top of  Tower Hill. We ducked in unison as a low-flying helicopter roared over the seminar room. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans on the beach below cheered and shouted: "God bless our mother country, God bless Britain." 

A couple of days later  in my role of Board Member of the British Council I attended a special session of the SL parliament. I sat behind the UK high commissioner, Alan Jones, and the commander of the British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier David Richards. The praise for Britain was so warm and effusive it was embarrassing. But at the same time it was deeply touching. 

A Muslim MP said: "The British are a special people ready to live and to die for what they believe in, rather than for short-term gain." He mentioned the British belief in fair play and justice and the spirit of King Arthur. 

At the end, and in keeping with the  Nineteenth Century character to life in this beautiful country, even perhaps recalling his own Colonial period education, an MP stood up and said, "I could see the great spectacle on the beach from my window.  When I saw the British forces landing - nothing could be more reassuring.  If I may quote Wellington, "I don't know what they do to the enemy, but by God they put the fear of God in ME."  
Members of parliament from all the political parties offered paeans of praise to Britain. They thanked Tony Blair. They thanked Robin Cook. They thanked Britain's UN ambassador, Jeremy Greenstock. They thanked the Department for International Development. They even praised the deputy prime minister, John Prescott. It must be one of the few rave reviews our minister for transport and wet and every other controversial thing had that year. '