|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
|New City 'Needs Diverse Voices'|
Newport, Wales, June 23, 2004 (BBC Wales) – Abdi Jama thinks more support and encouragement is needed Newport is one of the most diverse parts of Wales, home and workplace to people from a variety of cultures. According to the 2001 census, there are 137,011 people living in Wales' newest city, with almost one in ten - over 13,000 - from black or ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds. But only five candidates from BME backgrounds are standing in this year's council elections. They are among 147 people competing for the 47 council seats on Thursday, 10 June.
Omar Ali, project coordinator for Newport Somali Association, said not enough was being done to encourage people from BME backgrounds to stand as candidates.
"There is no direct representation for certain communities, which means that people don't have a voice on local issues," he said.
"The councilors who have been representing the people of the city have done what they can for the communities they represent.
"But at the end of the day, they see things in a different way to how we see things. There is no exchange of information," he said. There are 47 seats at Newport City Council up for election.
Mr Ali cited a number of reasons some people were put off standing. "From a Somalian point of view, most Somalians are Muslim and link the local Labor government to the national government and the connection with the war in Iraq, which many think is unjust.
"And so a lot of people simply don't want to be connected to it and it is a huge put-off for people.” Secondly, the council don't seem to be doing enough to encourage people to stand.
"They say if people want to they can, but they are not doing enough to seek possible candidates out.
"I would be very surprised if many people in the Somali community in Newport bothered to vote this year," he said.
Abdi Jama, a voluntary youth worker, blamed the lack of support offered from the council to potential candidates from BME backgrounds. "I think the council are pretty backward when it comes to diversity issues," he said.
"I believe that the council see people from BME backgrounds as a threat rather than an asset and maybe this is why people don't want to come forward to stand. "But saying that, as long as the councilor represents the whole community then there isn't a problem.
"And there is nothing wrong with a white councilor, for example, learning about the different cultures of the people they represent," he added. Jamila Hussain, aged 30, said the problems of not having councilors from BME backgrounds meant that an understanding of what communities needed was often lost.
"As a Muslim woman it just isn't working for me," she said. "If the person who gets in is representing the community properly then there really isn't a problem but I don't know if the people who get in do actually understand their community," she added.