Poverty-Africa: Leaders Cannot Close Their Ears
CAPE TOWN, – Eight years ago, the leaders of 189 countries pledged to work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, eliminating extreme poverty by 2015. The Stand Up, Take Action Campaign mobilises millions of people around the world to press for action to make this a reality.
The campaign is organised by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a world-wide coalition of NGOs, trade unionists, faith groups, women and youth organisations, and others.
In Africa, Oct. 17 to 19 will see coalitions of civil society groups stage events including conferences, concerts, and caravans; marches, tree-planting, the launching of credit schemes and prayers in 20 countries.
“Halfway to 2015, none of the African (coalition countries) is going to achieve all of the MDGs. It’s a big concern for us,” said GCAP’s Africa coordinator Christophe Zoungrana.
“At the recent high level event on MDGs in New York in September, we did not hear any new commitments, but rather (developed countries) said they are re-committing which means we are not really hopeful that much will be achieved.”
Zoungrana stressed that any decline in development assistance is worrying; GCAP is calling for more resources and greater trade justice to improve Africa’s access to global markets. He added that there is much work to be done within the continent as well.
“We believe African countries must work to mobilise internal resources to support development activities.”
On corruption, he said, Africans need to take leadership in making sure money is invested where it should be.
“Before GCAP was launched, very few people were aware of the MDGs. By mobilising people to stand up, we are contributing to more and more Africans being aware that leaders have committed themselves to eradicate poverty in the world.”
Mobilising across the continent
In Mauritius, IPS correspondent Nasseem Ackbarally reports that the Stand Up campaign involves a wide range of people and social classes — albeit separately.
An official function organised by the Trust Fund for the Social Integration of Vulnerable groups on Saturday invited politicians and government officials in large numbers to speak of poverty to the well-off.
Elsewhere, the Mauritius Trade Union Congress (MTUC) is putting on an event featuring a drama sketch about the effects of poverty. MTUC chair, Pradeo Buldee told IPS that poverty is affecting more and more Mauritians as oil and food prices remain high.
Buldee cited the example of the island nation’s farmers, who are struggling to make a living in the face of the high cost of farm inputs, particularly fertilisers. “A 50 kg bag of fertilisers that was sold at 300 rupees two years back now costs 1500 rupees (close to $50). Just imagine. How can farmers cope with such a situation?”
He called for subsidies to support farmers, while laying part of the blame for Mauritius’s levels of poverty on “the neo-liberal economic policy of the government, dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We are the very good students of these two international financial institutions that are forcing us into poverty,” he said.
Just outside the capital of Port-Louis, a local NGO called SOS Poverty went beyond standing up, and took action by launching cooperative credit union for poor women in Vallée Pitot on Oct. 17. According to SOS Poverty coordinator Yousouf Dauhoo, a hundred women received seed money — from funds raised within the area — to participate in the project that will provide low or interest-free loans to its members.
“Once they become members of the union, we’ll encourage them to save whatever sum they can so as to be able to benefit from the fund later on. They’ll be able to borrow small amounts to fund the education of their children or to start a small business at home.”
In South Africa, organisational difficulties led to a limited turnout for the presentation of a memorandum to the new administration of Kgalema Motlanthe at the Union Buildings in the capital Pretoria.
Caitlin Blaser of GCAP South Africa told IPS’s Zahira Kharsany that even though the South African economy had seen substanial economic growth, the poor in the country have not benefited.
A coalition including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the South African Non-Governmental Organisation Coalition (SANGOCO) urged government to guarantee child support grants and ensure all children under 18 were supported. The coalition also called on the state to eliminate value-added tax on a wider range of food items, and to abolish user fees on water.
Marches and other events took place around the country, including in Durban, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein.
In Zimbabwe, IPS reporter Ephraim Nsingo said that the main campaign event on Oct. 17, a gathering in Chitungwiza, near the capital Harare, was postponed when organisers apparently left it too late to apply for police clearance. The signing of a power-sharing agreement Sep. 15, has not yet led to the relaxation of restrictive laws on public gatherings, presenting challenges to popular mobilisation.
However marches involving residents and school children were reported in other parts of the capital Harare. A massive open-air concert is also expected to draw thousands in the capital.
Mwaura Kaara, with the United Nations Millennium Campaign in Kenya told IPS, “We need to take urgent and inspired action now, to remind our governments we expect them to deliver. That’s why this year we’re focusing on country-specific actions in support of the achievement of the Millennium Goals. Millions will be Standing Up and Taking Action, locally, nationally and globally.”
GCAP Africa coordinator Zoungrana said 7.5 million Africans took part in the Stand Up campaign last year; he hoped three or four times as many would participate in this year’s edition. Large numbers of people are expected to attend marches and concerts in Cairo, Lagos, Harare and elsewhere.
Assessing the impact the campaign has had to date, he said, “You only can advocate for something when you aware of it. Last year in Africa, we mobilised 7.5 million. This year, we are aiming to make this number three or four times higher. The campaign also gives opportunities to marginalised group such as women and young people to express themselves.
“We believe numbers are important. If many people stand up, leaders will not close their ears. They are elected to fulfill what people ask them to do.”