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13th January 2003

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Speech of Satish  BOOLELL, Chairman MACOSS

Distinguished Delegates,

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.

 The 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.

                                                                                                              

One 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:

  “Poverty 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 Cotonou Experience.

 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.

                                                                                                                            

Functional relationships 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 level.

So ladies and gentlemen, we turn our attention to AGOA and the questions are as simple as are the expected answers.

 

Will it bring in its wake opportunities for the empowerment of the NGO’s ?

 Will there be economic incentives for our populations as well as capacity building ?

 Will 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 ?

 Will 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.

   Satish  BOOLELL

   Chairman MACOSS

   13.01.2003

                           

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