Statement of Solidarity with Education International and the Researcher Arrested in Uganda

Monday, June 13, 2016 - 13:00

ActionAid stands in solidarity with its ally Education International (EI) in strongly condemning the recent shocking incident of a well-known academic researcher being arrested and harassed while undertaking research in Uganda.

Curtis Riep was commissioned by Education International, the global federation of teachers, to conduct a research on the schools run by Bridge International Academies (BIA), the multinational chain of ‘low-fee’ for-profit private schools. Riep is a Canadian researcher who has a distinguished track record of research on privatisation of education in different countries.

Bridge International Academies (BIA) is the largest chain of private schools in Africa, operating a total of 414 private primary schools in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. However, the Ugandan Ministry of Education has suspended the expansion of Bridge International schools in the country, citing concerns over infrastructure, teachers’ issues, methodology and curriculum. The Kenyan Ministry of Education took similar action against the opening of new ‘non-formal’ schools earlier this year, halting BIA’s expansion plans in the country, as the government develops new regulations concerning this aspect of the education sector. So, BIA is under considerable scrutiny for their questionable business practices.

During a meeting with BIA officials in Kampala, Riep was taken to a police station, where journalists from four media outlets were waiting, and was subsequently arrested. All charges were dropped following questioning. Five days before the arrest, a ‘wanted ad’ was published in a national newspaper, in which BIA accused Riep of criminal trespassing and ‘illegally’ impersonating one of its employees –allegations which have since been dismissed.

In an open letter to the co-founder of BIA, Shannon May, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen called the company’s actions “irresponsible”, “unwarranted” and “unacceptable” and demanded to clear Mr. Riep's name through an apology in an advertisement of the same size and in the same newspaper, to compensate him for damages suffered, and to meet the cost of legal assistance provided to him through the Uganda National Teachers' Union (UNATU).

Despite these concerns and those raised by the unfounded allegations against and persecution of Mr. Riep, BIA’s rapid expansion continues, with financial investment from a diverse range of funders including Bill Gates, Zuckerberg Education Ventures, Pearson Ltd, the International Finance Corporation(IFC, the private sector wing of the World Bank) and the UK government’s Department for International Development (DfID). This is already being challenged by human rights bodies. On June 9th 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) expressed concerns about the UK “funding of low-fee, private and informal schools run by for-profit business enterprises” through its development aid on the grounds that it could be contributing to the violation of children’s rights in recipient countries. However, BIA is still going ahead, with new academies planned for India and Liberia, with the government of the latter intending to entirely outsource – and thereby privatise – its public pre-primary and primary school system, predominantly to BIA. This development is being vigorously challenged in Liberia and internationally.

ActionAid condemns the scare tactics deployed by BIA, and the abuse of the justice system evident in BIA’s harassment of a researcher working on behalf of the world’s largest professional organisation. ActionAid reaffirms that education is a fundamental human right and a public good, and believes that the channeling of public funds to support businesses to commercialise and make profit from basic education to be a violation of human rights.