Leta Siasa

Thursday, September 08, 2005

WAHU KAARA: Wake Up to Poverty!



Keynote Address



In our pursuit for Global Justice and creating a better world that will uphold our heritage, we have come a long way. I stand before you today as an African woman. Somebody who experiences on a daily basis the pain and indignity of hunger, disease and illiteracy. For one who works at the grassroots level, it is a rare honour for me to be even given such an opportunity and I thank the organizers and all of you for this.

2005 has been a monumental year. We have seen bold and broad manouevres and engagement to address the critical issue of global poverty and inequality. An inequality whose responses and backlash has been and continues to be visited on us daily. With varying dimensions and tempo in its manifestation.

Of course, inequality is not just between countries but also within countries. As we Africans express our deepest solidarity and condolence to the people in this country affected by Hurricane Katrina, this reality has become loud and clear.

In the words of Gordon Brown, the British Finance Minister, "In 2005 we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a modern Marshall Plan for the developing world."

From the launch of the Global Call to Action against Poverty at the World Social Forum in January this year, through the G8 summit in July, to today; a vibrant voice that is interrogating the dominant discourse is gaining ground across borders.

I hope you are all familiar with the Global Call to Action Against Poverty which has in a matter of 8 months become the largest global movement against poverty with campaigns in over 100 countries, with millions of people taking action at the national and international levels. The Call includes social movements, trade unions, Churches, NGOs, womens, youth and human rights groups and ordinary citizens, many of them living in poverty. I hope all of you are wearing the symbol of the campaign – the White Band, my White Band has been made by the Maasai people of Kenya. And I hope you are all joining the many Wake Up to Poverty events planned by us that are happening this month. Please do visit www.whiteband.org or www.millenniumcampaign.org if you want to know more about this.

When I see Live 8 and Make Poverty History talking about 30,000 people dying a day, for me this is not a statistic. The images that go through my mind when I see these numbers are the faces and names of real people, my family, my neighbours, my friends, my community.

But today I want to bring to you the other Africa, the one that does not appear much on our TV screens. The Africa that is waging a determined struggle against poverty. As nations and as a continent. The Africa Union and the new African Parliament, led by a woman, is a symbol of this new Africa.

However the real transformation that is taking place is at the level of individual citizens in Africa. The people of Africa are increasingly refusing to accept a life of bondage, poverty and injustice. And our message to our governments in Africa is loud and clear- no more excuses, no more poverty. Meeting the Millennium Development Goals, which virtually every African Government signed onto five years ago, has to be top priority. We will not tolerate corruption and inefficiency from our leaders anymore.

Campaigns for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and poverty eradication are already active in over 20 African countries. The Global Call to Action against Poverty with the support of the United Nations Millennium Campaign is now a powerful voice of the people inside Africa holding African Governments to account.

But on the other hand, as much as the dominant discourse on poverty is developing world centric and Sub-Saharan Africa specific, the so-called developed world too has its stake. A big stake for that matter. Please listen to millions of your own citizens who are asking you to take action against poverty. Don't tell us you don't have enough money to meet your aid commitments and cancel debts of all poor countries. You found a lot more money overnight for the war on Iraq and cancelling Iraq's debts.

Looking at the task ahead of us; Our challenge: Voices for Peace, Partnerships and Renewal, it is obvious that we as a civilization are at critical juncture that calls upon us to rethink our destiny. This is not a small task and will not be accomplished overnight. But its mere admission calls for us to dialogue. And it is this dialogue that will usher us into a new paradigm.

Premised on the fact that the world is a shared heritage, we are saying that time has come when we have to free ourselves.

In the context of our Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for all, we are reaffirming that we want freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom from indignity.

At the intersection of developed and developing countries, what we call globalization today and its concomitant subjugation of whole societies and civilizations to the control and domination of others the very fibre of our commonality: Freedom is under challenge. I know the word freedom has been hijacked in recent times, but people from Africa who are in bondage know the true meaning of the word.

Let us join and listen to the voices of the world. The people who make the world. Those who toil. Those who nurture. Those who have continued to breathe life irrespective of the dispossession conditions they live in.

It is very ironical of the clear intentions and designs we continually put in place; each time history demands fundamental changes for human progress. It is my utmost hope that this premier dialogue is the first step towards breaking the rigid walls of the dominant enclosures.

This is the time to audit ourselves for the long march we have taken in convincing ourselves that we are making any changes but we aren't. No wonder we are caught in between a cyclic debate of poverty reduction or poverty eradication.

The problem is the adoption of the whole poverty agenda.

Poverty cannot be eradicated without a comprehensive development programme. Therefore, we need to go back to a development agenda for the New Millennium. And this necessarily has to be sustainable economic and social development.

This is what has to be discussed. This is what the other-globalist movement should be involved in. Of course the debt of poor countries has to be written off. Of course financial markets have to be controlled. Of course we need international taxes and an international distribution of incomes. And of course poor countries need policy autonomy in order to define their own development agenda. These are important criteria if we want to build another world.

We will need to talk about how to stop the depletion and squandering of natural resources. We will have to talk about food sovereignty. We will have to ask ourselves how to distribute production, trade and consumption. We cannot allow poor countries to produce for export and import everything they need. We will have to talk about some kind of world governance in order to plan, regulate and redistribute. Therefore, we will need democratic institutions. But the most important rationale is to break with the dominant worldview that only and only the markets will bring development.

No single country, no single man or woman can 'be developed'. Development is only possible if it emerges from the society, if people can decide themselves which kind of modernity they want. That is why policy autonomy and democracy are so crucial.

It is impossible to be against poverty eradication - there is a consensus on this. But that does not mean that we should not look critically at the harmful discourse of some international organizations in order to deconstruct and oppose it. That is what the other-globalist movement has to do. Poverty eradication never can be a progressive agenda if there is no economic justice at the global level and inequality between and within countries is not tackled at the same time.

Five years ago, world leaders met in this building at the Millennium Summit and committed themselves to go a long way in overcoming hunger, poverty and illiteracy by 2015. Since then the world has focused not on the MDGs but on the so-called war on terror. And even these most minimal goals, the MDGs, are not likely to be achieved by most poor countries and for most poor people, particularly in Africa.

In a week's time over 150 world leaders will be gathering in this very same room to take stock of how far we have progressed on the Millennium Development Goals, within the broader context of the Millennium Declaration. Citizens across the world are shocked that some governments are, at this late stage, asking for MDG commitments to be removed from the Summit outcome. As far as we from Africa, particularly the women are concerned, this is simply outrageous and destructive. We understand that UN Reform is important but millions of people's lives are at stake if the MDGs cannot be sacrificed at the altar of some governments pushing their own self-interest.

We would have said all this to world leaders directly but sadly civil society has no access to the Summit! We hope this is the last such occasion where leaders of peoples movements have no access.

Therefore, when world leaders are here next week, our call to them from the other side of the barricades, as Africans and as a vital part of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty is clear:
1. We don't want warm words, we want action to meet and exceed the MDGs by 2015. This means specific commitments. Time-bound country-specific implementation schedules. These measures have to be a part of the national development strategies, PRSPs and budgets;
2. These commitments should be monitored by Governments and reported to the public by all Governments including Goal 8 reports in the case of rich countries;
3. We want the MDGs to become legally enforceable human rights at all levels;
4. Rich countries should commit to 0.7% of GNI to ODA by 2010 at the latest;
5. All aid should be immediately untied and clear aid effectiveness targets adopted. Donors should stop harmful conditionalities forthwith and poor countries should have the policy space they need to be accountable to their own citizens and Parliaments;
6. Debt cancellation has to include 100% of official debt of all low-income countries;
7. Trade justice should be given the highest priority - agricultural subsidies under all guises that are killing poor formers in poor countries should be dismantled now;
8. Barriers to goods and people from poor countries from having access to rich country markets should be torn down now and the double talk of free markets for the poor and back-handed protectionism for the rich should end now! And not just for LDCs but all poor countries. Our honesty and sincerity now is to rise up as history demands and acknowledge we have created poverty. Because poverty is created scarcity. And this 21st Century we have a choice to shift from this paradigm and create plenty for all!

This is why when we from Africa stand up to declare that, "we shall no longer die, but live for Africa," let the echo of this clarion call resonate at all corners of the world. And thus we will have secured the larger freedoms for us all. For ourselves and our children. It is our heritage at stake!!!!

--WAHU KAARA is Ecumenical Coordinator for the Millennium Development Goals, All Africa Conference of Churches & Global Call to Action Against Poverty.