13th January 2003
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Speech of Satish BOOLELL,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed a great pleasure and privilege for me to
officially welcome you all to this historic conference. I most humbly beg to
remind you of the purpose of your presence here today, to assess and analyse,
critically if need be, the NGO perspective on implementation, progress and
future objectives of the AGOA. We are representatives of the civil society of
Africa and if history will recall that we were not involved in the initial
phases of AGOA, it is only fitting that this shortcoming be corrected and that
prior to implementation, our role as partners in the promotion of any process
which may change the course of our lives, be recognized. Far too often we have
felt remote from decision processes and have sensed an almost total
disconnection from major issues.
forum being held today is to my mind, a reasonably healthy exercise to promote
the relationship between the state and civil society, between a state and its
people in a context of what is perceived by many as being suspicious globalisation.
Many questions will have to be asked and many more will have to be answered.
Far too often at the crossroads of development, in the name of progress and
superior national interests, the views of the NGO community have been ignored,
inevitably leading to a feeling of discontent among those of us who have
something to contribute. The root cause of our malaise is a
sickly feeling that no one ever listens to us but we are still expected to be on
board for implementation of decisions taken.
does not need to possess the minds of great economists in order to fathom the
failure of the economic management of the social problems of many African
states. Many of our societies seem to have been converted at one time or
other into vast madhouses where all the patients are dancing frantically to the
tune of jingling gold coins, with he or they who dance the most, totally
unmindful of the needs of others, crushing the poor minions under their dancing
feet. It has become more and more evident that materially many of our
populations have not benefited from what others call progress. Civilisation
in many instances, has become synonymous with greed, power and
discrimination. Rampant poverty has cancerously infiltrated so many sectors
that even today, we do not have a proper definition of poverty in Africa.
Could poverty be due to a denial to proper education? Education was devised to
strip us of our coarse features and to enable us to climb the scale of life.
Could poverty be due to the non respect for human rights, leading to a loss of
freedom, be it of speech, thought or movement ?
It is claimed and
justifiably so that the poverty of Africa is not a natural disaster, that it was
man made, the product of alien cultures being imposed during the early days of
colonization, the lack of respect for cultural specificities.
I consider poverty not to be merely the absence of life’s basic necessities.
It is also about
the lack of opportunity, of
facilities to a good and happy life, of unrestricted access to education, of
equal opportunities, of gender equality, of possibilities for individuals to
achieve their cultural or spiritual potential, of the right to life and to
produce life. These are our problems in Africa with certain diseases almost
wiping out early in this century an entire generation, the missing
generation. At the risk of being repetitive, poverty was never an original
state for us nor an inevitability. It was inflicted upon us, created
through an uneven distribution of riches by societies, governments or by an
uncaring international community.
And poverty does not
affect the poor only. When the cleavage of communities into
rich and poor leads to problems of crime and delinquency the rich do suffer and
the evident conclusion is that poverty affects the rich through being a major
threat to social consensus and political stability.
In a world bank publication, a poor man says:
is like heat: you cannot see it, you can only feel it; so to know poverty
you have to go through it.
Is AGOA the miraculous cure to all our troubles? But before proceeding any
further, it must be recognized that there is an affirmative action from the
AGOA legislation which has made it mandatory for civil society participation in
AGOA implementation consistent with the same philosophy which has guided the
Consequently civil society is expected to contribute to the process of the free
trade agreement and its impact on human development. But what kind of civil
society are we talking about ? My contention is that a robust and vibrant civil
society has to consist of grass root level NGO’s, organizations which feel the
pulse of the people, bear the brunt of social disasters and feel the pain of
humanity. They are the only ones which can provide a true feed back of the
social impact of AGOA. AGOA implementation should not be an excuse for the
proliferation of NGO’s across Africa, NGO’s with hidden political agendas,
always ready to undermine the social fabric of any country to either further
personal political ambitions or to represent the interests of the multinational
investors. Restrictive legislation may be required to this effect. At the
other end of the spectrum, it would not be desirable for governments to create
their own politically correct NGO coalitions or trusts so as to maintain full
control on the activities of the people.
between NGO’s and governments have to be established in a spirit of mutual
respect in such a way that the identity of the NGO is not destroyed. This dichotomic relationship should not jeopardize the autonomy of either
partner. NGO’s should cooperate under conditions which do not bring their
integrity into disrepute. They must preserve their identity, maintain their
independence of action and above all, be beyond reproach.
International agencies should not encourage or glorify the lame ducks of this
sector. Too often, the mantle of respectability for some has been achieved in
social functions, sponsored conferences and seminars rather than at grassroot
ladies and gentlemen, we turn our attention to AGOA and the questions are as simple as are the expected answers.
it bring in its wake opportunities for the empowerment of the NGO’s ?
there be economic incentives for our populations as well as capacity building ?
it help Africa to get out of the poverty cycle ?
Will there be a
continuous monitoring process of its social impact by NGO’s independent of
government surveillance ?
it promote good governance ?
We agree fully that this may be a golden opportunity for Africa in the trade
sector and that it is expected to create wealth for the social development
of the continent.
Africa having just come out fairly scathed from an era of European colonization,
has become wary of mannas from heaven. We no longer want to be passive
onlookers. Our participation to the advancement of the world community can
only be as active partners.
I would like to
leave you with the words of Mahatma Gandhi who said
“ Recall the
face of the poorest and weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if
the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.
Will he gain anything by it ? Will it restore him to a control
over his own life and destiny.
Thank you for your attention.