Voices from African Civil Society

We left in the morning for Gleneagles. The bomb attacks in London have shocked everyone at Gleneagles. We had a long, long day. Maura and I came back to the apartment around 1am. Earlier today I talked to few representatives of local and international organisations in Africa who are attending the summit to get the exact messages they have brought all the way from Africa.

Monica Naggaga is the policy coordinator for Oxfam Uganda. I started our conversation by asking her the reasons for coming to Gleneagles. “I am here to lobby the leaders of G8 to end poverty in Africa,” said Naggaga who mainly uses the media to get her message across to world leaders and the British public.

Naggaga's main message to leaders of the G8 is clear: African governments should be allowed to decide their own trade policy. “If they decide to open up their markets, let it be so, if they decide to protect domestic markets, let it be so.” She said with conviction.

On the issue of debt, Naggaga believes that what Africa need is better and appopriate aid “so that we can effectively deliver the Millenium Development Goals.” Better aid, according to Naggaga, means aid not tied to conditionalities, which usually amounts to giving money with one hand and taking it away with the other. She maintains that Africa requires extra $50 billion this year.

Naggaga also wants world's advanced nations to to commit themselves to a clear time-frame to phase out farming subsdies, which negatively affects African farmers.

Mulima Kufeksa Akapelwa, the head of deparment of Justice and Peace for the Catholic Centre for Justice, Development, and Peace in Zambia, is in Gleneagles to ask world's richest nations to extend debt cancellation beyond the 14 African countries that have benefitted from the first phase of the deal.

She wants debt cancellation to be accompanied by more and effective aid. She elaborates: “Africa does not benefit from aid designed in a way that huge chunk of the money comes back to the West as payment for consultants, technicians, and purchase of equipment.”

“Another critical area that we have raised our concern is trade. Africa will not be able to stand on her own if the international trade regime is not reformed,” she said, adding that fair trade alone will not help Africa. “Africa needs the economic capacity to give incentives to her people to be more productive, and also improve the necessary physical, telecommunication, and financial infrastructure and systems needed for high and quality productivty,” Mulima noted.

On the role of Africa in fighting poverty, she observed that more foreign aid cannot is needed even where it seems as if the problem is under Africa's control. She points out that corruption, which is one the the major problems in Africa, requires huge investment to wipe it out. Referring to her country of Zambia, in Southern Africa, she said, “Zambia reguires about $4million to install new technologies for tracking use of public funds. This is a lot of money for a country like Zambia but very crucial.”

After attending the 2003 G8 Summit in France, Caroline Sande, the Director of ActionAid, Southern Africa, promised herself that she was not going to attend more G8 summits: “Historically, these meetings are about rhetorics and sometimes leaders are only scoring points against each other.”

However, this year's summit, “is very unique and brings with it hope and optimism that has never been felt before.” Mass demonstration that took place in Edinburgh last week, Sande believes, showed that ordinary people are asking questions and at the same time Africans have started to critically sift through grand statements and look at small prints.

Despite her optimism, she will not be surprised if nothing significant comes out of the summit “since it will not be the first time Africa is one of the key issues of the summit with lots of promises made but not fulfiled.” She points to the contradiction within western governments such as the UK as an indicator of how difficult it might for promises to be delivered.

“Look, the Home Office wants to kick out asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, the Trade Department's policy papers talk about working towards opening up Africa's markets to British corporations, the UK is the second largest exporter of small arms to volatile regions of Africa, at the same time the Prime Minister leads other G8 leaders in ending poverty in Africa. How can you explain these contradictions?” She asks.

Another contradiction, she adds, is in the fact that members of the G8 want African countries to practice the pure form of free market economy while they forcefully protect their domestic markets.

Caroline has speficic messages from Africa for G8 leaders, “We need time-frame for impementing promises, solutions cannot be found in singular programmes; it is about a package of fair trade, better aid, debt cancellation and so forth.”

The basis of our message is that the lives of African people should be valued. “We dont see, for example, why plans to put every HIV/AIDS victims under treatment are targeted for 2010. Why not now? We are talking about human beings who will not be around in 2010,” she complained.

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