Kumi Naidoo

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Kumi Naidoo
Kumi Naidoo MSC 2019.jpg
Naidoo during the MSC 2019
NationalitySouth African
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
OccupationHuman Rights activist
OrganizationAmnesty International
TitleSecretary-General of Amnesty International

Kumi Naidoo (born 1965, Durban, South Africa) is a South African human rights and environmental activist.

Kumi Naidoo was International Executive Director of Greenpeace International (from 2009 through 2016) and Secretary General of Amnesty International (from 2018 through 2020). As at June 2020, he is the first Global Ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity.[1] He serves as Professor of Practice at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Kumi is also a Visiting Fellow: at University of Oxford and an Honorary Fellow at Magdalen College

Kumi started out as a child activist fighting apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. He is a co-founder of the Helping Hands Youth Organisation. Naidoo has led global campaigns to end poverty and protect human rights in various roles including; being the Ninth Secretary-General of Amnesty International.[2] until December 2019 when he made the decision to step down from his position due to health-related concerns.[3]

Kumi was also the first African head of Greenpeace, an international environmentalist group, serving as its International Executive Director from 2009 to 2015.[4][5] He has served as the Secretary-General of Civicus, an international alliance for citizen participation, from 1998 to 2008.[6] Kumi was also the Launch Executive Director of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity. He has also served the Global Call to Action Against Poverty and the Global Call for Climate Action (Tcktcktck.org), which brings together environmental aid, religious and human rights groups, labour unions, scientists and others and has organised mass demonstrations around climate negotiations.[7]

Activism in South Africa[edit]

Born in Durban, South Africa, Naidoo became involved in anti-apartheid activities when he was just 15, resulting in his expulsion from high school.[8] He was involved in neighbourhood organising, community youth work, and mass mobilisations against the apartheid regime. During the apartheid era, Naidoo was arrested several times and was charged for violating provisions against mass mobilisation, civil disobedience and for violating the state of emergency. This led him to having to go underground before finally deciding to live in exile in England.

He suspended his studies at Oxford to return to South Africa in 1990 in order to conduct literacy campaigns after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and Mandela's decision to run for president of South Africa. Naidoo, like many South African-born Indians, identifies himself as a Black South African. He noted that the completion of his doctorate was absolutely essential given that he was told that he was "the first Indian activist" from South Africa to earn a doctorate at Oxford.[9]

Naidoo was the founding member and Executive Director of the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO).

The Exile Years[edit]

During the apartheid period, Naidoo was arrested several times and was charged for violating provisions against mass mobilisation, civil disobedience and for violating the state of emergency.

This led him to having to go underground before finally deciding to go into exile, ending up with time in England and the United States.

During this time Naidoo was a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford and he eventually earned a PhD in political sociology.

Naidoo's doctorate was earned in the late 1990s, after he returned to England from South Africa.

Voluntary Activism[edit]

"It is obvious that too many corporations and governments do not listen and put power and profit over people, ignoring what is in the best interest of humanity. It is becoming increasingly difficult to get their attention – but one thing that we know that works is civil disobedience and peaceful protest. Every act of rebellion – no matter how seemingly insignificant – adds up."

— Naidoo, 2009.[10]

Fighting Apartheid in South Africa (period to be specified)

After Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990, Kumi Naidoo returned to South Africa to work on the legalisation of the African National Congress and to lead the adult literacy campaigns and voter education efforts.

He has also served the Global Call to Action Against Poverty

The Global Call for Climate Action (Tcktcktck.org), which brings together environmental aid, religious and human rights groups, labour unions, scientists and others and has organised mass demonstrations around climate negotiations.[7]

Between 2015 and 2018, Kumi was also the Launch Executive Director of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity

EarthRights International, Member of the Leadership Council[11]

Transparency International, Member of the Advisory Council[12]

Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID), Member of the Board

Global Civil Society[edit]

Kumi Naidoo at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in 2011

The CIVICUS Period[edit]

From 1998 to 2008, he was the Secretary General and chief executive officer of the initially Washington-based Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world.

During this time, Kumi also served as the founding chairperson of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty.

The Greenpeace Period[edit]

Kumi Naidoo joined Greenpeace in 2009. He had been persuaded by his daughter Naomi to take on the role. Greenpeace's commitment to direct action and civil disobedience was what attracted Naidoo to the organisation. Naidoo saw his role as the executive director of Greenpeace as that of an alliance builder and an agent of change. Importantly, Naidoo saw the intricate connections between environmental justice, women's and human rights as being interconnected, occasionally bringing him much criticism from Western-born environmentalists who tended and tend to see environmentalism as a discrete cause.[13][14]

Naidoo has been actively involved in acts of peaceful civil-disobedience in the Arctic Ocean region against Shell and Gazprom's plan to drill in the Arctic's melting ice. In August 2012, Naidoo along with a group of Greenpeace volunteers occupied Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Pechora Sea for 15 hours, for the second time in the Arctic.[15] A year before, in June 2011, Naidoo spent four days in a Greenlandic prison after scaling an oil platform owned by Cairn Energy, as part of Greenpeace's "Go Beyond Oil" campaign. He was deported to Denmark where he spent a short time in Danish custody before being released in Amsterdam, Netherlands.[16]

He has been a vocal critic of the failure of bodies like the World Economic Forum,[17] to go beyond "system recovery", "system protection and maintenance" instead proposing a system re-design. Kumi Naidoo uses the WEF to amplify environmental messages to business leaders and politicians and lobby for green business practices and transformational changes in the energy sector.[18] During the World Economic Forum in 2013, while Kumi Naidoo was rubbing shoulders with the world's wealthiest elites,[19] Greenpeace activists were blocking a Shell gas station just outside the Swiss mountain resort demanding that the oil giant drops its ambitions to drill for oil in the Arctic.[20] Naidoo regularly attends United Nations climate negotiations and advocates for increased ambitions from governments to cap emissions and vigorously move towards an energy sector based on renewables meant to help humanity avoid catastrophic climate change.[21]

In 2015 Naidoo announced that he would be leaving the post of International Executive Director in the middle of his second term.[22] Announcing his departure from the role of IED he said; "When I leave, I am looking forward to taking up an even more important role with Greenpeace: as a volunteer."[23] Naidoo returned to South Africa to focus his work on energy justice. Naidoo's resignation came shortly after it emerged that the organization suffers a budgetary crisis. In 2014 a leaked document indicated that a staffer had lost £3m in donor money on the foreign exchange market by betting mistakenly on a weak euro while Greenpeace’s financial department faced a series of other various problems due to mismanagement.[24] The further documentation showed that this was only one example of how the organization was not managing its finances well and neglecting its reputation. It was also revealed that Greenpeace International’s program director Pascal Husting was regularly commuting by plane between his home in Luxembourg to the organization’s offices in Amsterdam. A letter from 40 Greenpeace Netherlands staff called on Husting to resign. Greenpeace International staff shortly joined their colleagues demanding that Executive Director Kumi Naidoo should resign as well.[25]

The Amnesty International Period[edit]

On 21 December 2017, Amnesty International appointed Kumi Naidoo as its next Secretary-General. In August 2018 Kumi succeed Salil Shetty, who served two terms in Amnesty International as the Secretary-General from 2010. The Secretary General is the leader and main spokesperson for Amnesty International and the Chief Executive of its International Secretariat. Kumi started his role at Amnesty with an opening session from Africa.[2]

In 2019 Amnesty International admitted to a hole in its budget of about £17m in donor money to the end of 2020. In order to deal with the budgetary crisis Kumi Naidoo announced to staff that the organization's headquarters would cut almost 100 jobs as a part of urgent restructuring. Unite the Union, the UK’s biggest trade union, said the redundancies were a direct result of “overspending by the organisation’s senior leadership team” and have occurred “despite an increase in income”.[26]

The crisis at Amnesty International became public in 2018 when Gaëtan Mootoo, 65, a researcher of three decades, died by suicide at Amnesty's Paris office, leaving a note blaming work pressures and a lack of support from management. A review found Mootoo's pleas for help had been ignored.[27] According to Mootoo’s former collaborator, Salvatore Saguès, “Gaëtan’s case is merely the tip of the iceberg at Amnesty. A huge amount of suffering is caused to employees. Since the days of Salil Shetty, when top management were being paid fabulous salaries, Amnesty has become a multinational where the staff are seen as dispensable. Human resources management is a disaster and nobody is prepared to stand up and be counted. The level of impunity granted to Amnesty’s bosses is simply unacceptable.” [28] After none of Amnesty's managers were held accountable for the poor working conditions and systematic misspending by Amnesty's international secretariat, a group of workers petitioned for Naidoo's resignation. On December 5, 2019 Naidoo resigned from Amnesty International citing ill health. Naidoo said, "Now more than ever, the organisation needs a secretary general who is fighting fit and can see through its mandate with vitality that this role, this institution, and the mission of universal human rights deserve.".[29]

Honours and Awards[edit]

Kumi Naidoo has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by:

University of Johannesburg in 2019[30]

Durban University of Technology in 2017[31]

Nelson Mandela University in 2012

The James Lawson Award for peaceful activism in (2014)[32]

Kumi was selected as one of the 21 ICONS South Africa: Honouring the legacy of Nelson Mandela (2013)[33]

Selected List of Audio-Visual statements[edit]

A selected list of recordings detailing some of the key periods of Kumi Naidoo's global civil society career.

In this November 2014 recording, Kumi Naidoo talks about a Billion Acts of Courage

Kumi talks about the murder of his friend and comrade, Lenny Naidu

Kumi talks to Al Jazeera English: Can Amnesty International fix its toxic work culture?


  1. ^ "AfricansRising". Retrieved 3 June 2020.
  2. ^ a b "New Secretary General Kumi Naidoo pledges support for African human rights defenders to hold the powerful to account". amnesty.org. August 2018.
  3. ^ "Amnesty International's Secretary General steps down". amnesty.org. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  4. ^ "New leadership at Greenpeace International". Greenpeace. Retrieved 17 November 2009.
  5. ^ "Anti-apartheid activist named head of Greenpeace". Associated Press via CBC. 16 November 2009. Retrieved 17 June 2012.
  6. ^ Kumi Naidoo bio | Civicus Archived 6 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  7. ^ a b Tcktcktck.org Partners A-Z List Archived 17 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  8. ^ "Durban Living Legend – Kumi Naidoo". Ulwazi Programme, Durban Public Library. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  9. ^ "Kumi Naidoo | Oxford Today".
  10. ^ Greenpeace's Shard ascent. Greenpeace Blog. (18 July 2013). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  11. ^ Leadership Council EarthRights International.
  12. ^ Advisory Council Transparency International.
  13. ^ History teaches us... The Guardian. (30 November 2009). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Cold hands, determined hearts. Greenpeace Blog. (28 August 2012). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  16. ^ Greenpeace's Naidoo freed, then deported. Times LIVE. (21 June 2011) Retrieved on 5 January 2012.
  17. ^ WEF 'Unlike' – Davos-bound. Huffington Post. (21 January 2013). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  18. ^ Interview: Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace. Guardian Sustainable Businesses.(15 February 2013). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  19. ^ Kumi Naidoo at the WEF 2013 in Davos. Reuters. (25 January 2013) Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  20. ^ Shell fuel station shutdown in Davos, Swtizerland. Greenpeace Blog. (25 January 2013). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  21. ^ Climate change: tears in the desert. Business Day LIVE. (20 December 2012). Retrieved on 10 September 2013.
  22. ^ Streep, Abe (1 April 2015). "Why Kumi Naidoo Is Stepping Down from Greenpeace". Outside Online. Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  23. ^ "Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey". Greenpeace International. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  24. ^ Greenpeace losses: leaked documents reveal extent of financial disarray, The Guardian, 23 June 2014
  25. ^ Greenpeace staffers call for resignation of top leaders, Humanosphere, 31 July 2014
  26. ^ Amnesty International to make almost 100 staff redundant, The Guardian, 9 June 2019
  27. ^ Amnesty International has toxic working culture, report finds, The Guardian, 6 Feb 2019
  28. ^ Can Amnesty recover from this tragic death?, RFI, 26 May 2019
  29. ^ [2], Civil Society News, 6 Dec 2019
  30. ^ "News & Events - Honorary doctoral degree for activist Kumi Naidoo". uj.ac.za. Retrieved 3 June 2020.
  31. ^ "DUT HONORARY DOCTORATE FOR Dr Kumi Naidoo". Durban University of Technology. 7 September 2017. Retrieved 3 June 2020.
  32. ^ "https://twitter.com/kuminaidoo/status/479908688812331009". Twitter. Retrieved 3 June 2020. External link in |title= (help)
  33. ^ '21 Icons' Video Profile of Kumi Naidoo, retrieved 3 June 2020

External links[edit]