Inequalities: the central focus of a regional Leadership Forum in Kenya

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Jean Symes at far right
Jean Symes: representing Inter Pares at ACORD assembly (far right).

Last week, Inter Pares staff member Jean Symes was invited to Naivasha, Kenya, to participate in a three-day Leadership Forum called “Tackling African Inequalities.”

The Forum, organized by our long-term counterpart ACORD, brought together 47 African and international social justice activists and workers to develop action plans for ACORD’s contributions to transforming the economic, social and political structures that create and maintain inequality in Africa.

‘Is Africa Rising  or is Africa Bleeding?’ asked Aidan Eyakuze, the keynote speaker at the Forum. And rightly so. Here is why. 

In the past decade, many countries in Africa have experienced rapid economic growth. But while the economic indicators are showing progress, they hide the fact that the vast majority of Africa’s people are not benefiting: most of the growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is from the export of raw materials, and few jobs are being generated. So the significant growth in GDP has been largely accompanied by increasing inequalities in income, wealth and access to social services.

Ironically, this is especially the case in countries rich in natural resources, where profits for international corporations and a small African elite are soaring, but wages for workers are stagnant. And where inequalities are growing, vulnerability to conflict and natural disasters worsen, social cohesion is weakened and insecurity exacerbated. 

During this forum, ACORD’s partners  including Inter Pares, Pan-African civil society organizations, governments, international donors, local community representatives and like-minded actors from within and outside the African continent  discussed a vision of structural transformation that incorporates concrete changes in order to foster inclusive and sustainable industrialization.

Participants exchanged views on African economic diversification through public investment, ecologically sustainable people-centred agricultural policies with an emphasis on small farmers, and on countries’ capacities to feed themselves. They agreed that these must be considered with fair and progressive tax regimes, a commitment to curb corruption, as well as measures to stop the illicit flow of millions of dollars out of Africa through the use of tax havens  largely perpetrated by extractive industries.

Reaching these goals will require the political will of governments in Africa. But it will also require countries like Canada to insist on changes in the international trade and financial systems. At the moment, these systems hamper the efforts of African and other governments in their ability to transform domestic economic policies, even with all the political will in the world.

ACORD is an Africa-led international organization working with people living on the margins of society to exercise their rights and improve their livelihoods. ACORD has program offices in 17 countries across Africa and collaborates with African and Northern organizations to mobilize resources and support for local economic and social development, research and training, as well as advocacy for more equitable relations within and among communities.

Africa Rising or Africa Bleeding?

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  • lorine besel
    Is ACORD involved in addressing the Ebola situation? How can the rest of us really help?
  • patricia
    Thank you Lorine for your comment. ACORD's work on the right to health has two parts: it advocates and works with local governments to establish good health systems able to respond to community needs; and in communities it emphasizes prevention, which includes the provision of information and basic supplies to keep themselves and their families safe. How can we help? For emergency health care, which addresses short term issues in the regions affected by the outbreak, you might consider donating to the Canadian Red Cross, which is providing emergency equipment and supplies. At the same time, the epidemic and the fears of the epidemic are having horrific effects on the entire population, including the majority who have not contracted the disease. People in epidemic affected areas are being prevented from going to markets, their produce rotting in the fields, normal economic activity is being hampered. This means hardship for many more than are being affected. They will need help restarting businesses and recuperating from lost crops, and if the epidemic continues, they'll need assistance adjusting to new economic realities. More than ever, the health systems in these countries will need to be reconstructed so as to be able to deal with disease as it arises, before it gets to a crisis stage.