Africa: Citizenship in Action
VOLUME 26, NUMBER 4, SEPTEMBER 2004
Just over a year ago, the World Trade Organization dissolved its third ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, when it became clear that consensus could not be reached on key issues related to international trade and investment.
Leading the call to resist the domination of the negotiations by powerful economies were governments and citizen organizations of many African countries. The Cancun meeting heralded a potential sea change in global politics as these countries used their collective strength to resist the imposition of policies that have intensified inequality and destroyed local economies. Working with allies from citizen groups in the north, they asserted that more than commercial negotiations are at stake. As Ghanaian activist and Inter Pares colleague, Tetteh Hormeku of Third World Network Africa, said, "Agricultural subsidies by the north are destroying our local production and food security. These are not simply issues of economic policy - these are literally matters of life and death for us."
Matters of life and death. Matters of death because of the intensifying impoverishment of the majority of the people in countries that are rich in resources. And matters of life because of the aspirations of these same people for a voice in what happens to them today, and for a better future for themselves and their children tomorrow.
There is no shortage in Africa of ideas for economic and social alternatives to make these aspirations a reality. However, the restrictive international policy environment within which such approaches can be explored presents a formidable challenge. A recent five-year study of the impact of World Bank policies on developing countries concluded:
One factor, more than any other, has crippled national economies, increased poverty and inequality, and made millions of people go hungry. It is a set of policies called structural adjustment, that has been forced on developing countries for more than 20 years by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Western aid agencies. Country after country has been compelled, regardless of circumstances, to adapt to this 'one size fits all' economic strategy that exposes the world's most vulnerable peoples and weakest economies to the full force of the global market place dominated by the most powerful and richest economies and corporations.¹
In the context of 21st century Africa, given the legacies of colonization, disenfranchisement and expropriation, development depends upon the power of citizens to challenge the imposition of "one size fits all", to assert their rights, to demand accountability from their own governments, and to engage in the world as global citizens.
This transformation also depends upon the willingness of citizens in other parts of the world to demand that their own governments respect the right of all countries to determine the strategies and policies appropriate to their development needs. Such respect requires active, genuine support for diversity, cooperation and fairness in global relations.
An essential condition of social transformation is that people be the authors of their own lives and the architects of their own futures. Development efforts that do not emerge from the authentic aspirations of people and draw on their knowledge and experience are doomed to failure. Inter Pares supports the strengthening of African citizens' organizations that seek to articulate the needs and rights of people in their own societies for a fair distribution of the world's resources, and solutions to the political and economic marginalization of the continent.
Inter Pares also sustains relationships of mutual learning and support among organizations in Canada who want our government to demonstrate leadership in global institutions for democratic governance and respect for human rights. Wor king with counterparts at home and internationally, we seek to build and defend cultures of citizenship, and open space - not for the alternative - but for many, diverse alternatives for life-sustaining, healthy futures for all.
¹ Structural Adjustment, The Policy Roots of Economic Crisis, Poverty and Inequality: A report on a Joint Participatory Investigation by Civil Society and the World Bank of the Impact of Structural Adjustment Policies, by the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review International Network (SAPRIN), Zed Books, 2004
|Reviewed September 10, 2004||Publishing Policies|