Bilateral trade spells the end of sovreignty for Africa
Thursday June 07th 2007, 9:35 am
Filed under: 50:50, Africa, G8, economic empowerment, globalisation

by Mohau Pheko

All nations have intellectual property rights essential for protecting innovation, knowledge and creativity. This is essential in the area of medicines, inventions and new technologies. In order to deliver essential services such as healthcare, education, water and other essential services, the state buys services and goods to fulfill their obligations to citizens through a government procurement system. There are key sectors of industry where a government needs to seek investment to either establish or strengthen its industrial development strategy.

If a state trades away its intellectual property rights, allowing more industrialized countries to have more rights in the ownership of a nation’s knowledge, invention and new technologies can we still call it a sovereign state? If it allows foreign corporations to compete with local small companies for tenders in supplying government with goods on an equal footing, what one should pose will happen to efforts to empower women and affirmative action programmes put in place to bridge the inequalities of the past in the economy?

The G8 through many of it’s trade agreements such as the Singapore issues and Economic Partnership Agreements is weakening the African state. If the state allows foreign investors a status equal to that of citizens in the ownership of key sector of the economy, can we still call such a nation economically viable and sovereign?

In reviewing some of the G8’s existing free trade agreement one notes that the architecture can go far beyond trade. Some of them are long on foreign policy objectives and short on substantive trade liberalisation. Kwame Nkrumah in Neo-Colonialism, the Last State of Imperialism, reminds are that the “essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trapping of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.”

How sovereign is a nation that has no control or ownership over the key sectors of its economy? How sovereign is a nation that can no longer be a social provider because it has traded away the right to educate, provide healthcare, and affirm potential entrepreneurs in its economy?

The covert action, and hard-nosed attitude of the G8 countries in their trade talks Africa symbolize the neo-colonial or economic colonial era Africa as a whole is faced with. Under the old pretense that if Africa gives the G8 countries concessions in the areas of intellectual property, government procurement and investment, which is important for G8 companies doing business on the African continent, African countries in turn, will enjoy new levels of economic growth. Judging the over 2,300 bilateral free trade agreements that exist in the world today, nothing could be further from the truth.

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TALKIN' 'BOUT A REVOLUTION – A FEMINIST LOOK AT CLIMATE CHANGE
Saturday May 26th 2007, 8:05 pm
Filed under: 50:50, G8, climate change, environment, feminism, globalisation

by Mona Bricke  - G8 NGO Platform  Coordinator - who works with the German NGO Forum on Environment and Development  and is member of Genanet (Gender, Environment, Sustainability)

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Everybody is talking about Climate Change.  Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is no exception with her decision to make it the number one priority at this year’s G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany.  Since the Stern Report has made it clear that there is a slim margin of only a few years to address a host of pressing issues such as global warming and the ensuing increasingly catastrophic weather conditions, melting of the polar caps and rising sea levels, even tabloids such as the German „Bildzeitung“, not formerly known to be the avant guard of progressive thinking, are painting alarming pictures of a world-wide climate catastrophe in their headlines.

Heads of state and of business have suddenly awoken to a threat that has been building up for decades. It is not as if climate change were a new problem: the scientific community has been making dire predictions about climate change for a long time, with only a few environmentalists heeding them.  What seems to have awoken the powers that be is the threat climate change poses to the world economy. Suddenly, insurance companies are siding with environmentalists and UN-commissions in a bid to limit the global increase in temperature to two degrees Celsius through binding emmissions reductions on the part of industrialised countries.

This can, of course, be seen as a good thing. One might argue that only if the outcry about climate change reaches the highest national and international levels, will true changes happen. But as a feminist I am keeping a wary eye on these new-formed coalitions. Are they truly going to address what is needed: a crucial turning around of the political agenda instead of the adjustments we are witnessing at the moment, such as emmissions reductions and efforts towards „adaptation to climate change“, which, not to put too fine a point on it, is a sop offered to developing countries, as they and their poorest inhabitants (still overwhelmingly women and children), are the ones who will bear the brunt of climate change. I don’t want to be misunderstood here: adaptation is important, in order to keep millions of people from dying in floods and droughts during the difficult decades we are facing. But it is not enough by far!

We need to start thinking outside the box, if we really want to change the world in a way that will make it livable for all, not only for those who can buy themselves protection from the consequences of climate change. If we muddle on like we have been doing, adjusting one thing here, tweaking another there, there will be no systemic change towards a sustainable lifestyle for all. And here is where I see a feminist agenda as crucial: feminists throughout the centuries and especially since the eighties of the 20th century have fought for a sustainable lifestyle and for an economic and political system based on solidarity instead of what it is based on at the moment: the neoliberal dogma of economic growth and privatisation at whatever costs to humanity and future generations.

The political and economic system we are living in and working with now is blind: blind to injustice, blind to the welfare of the underprivileged and, most esentially, there is no place in it for taking the future into account – it cannot, because putting economic gain before all other considerations is innate in the system. The whole world, even up to the air we are breathing (emmission certificates) and the information we are sharing (intellectual property rights) is being turned into commodities. Some, like the German Ministry for the Environment, present this as a step forward, because only what has a price can be protected within a market economy (or capitalism, to use the oldfashioned term).

Why do we accept this? Why is there so little  talk of a true revolution, an energy revolution and a social revolution in the best sense – a turning of the tide, another world? Because we have been suckered into believing that there is no alternative to the neoliberal dogma of the supremacy of market forces. Most nongovernmental organisations no longer dare to think outside the box. Many think that, as Communism and Socialism are dead, there is no use in thinking about alternatives as we are seemingly living in the best of all possible worlds, as imperfect as it may be.

So what to do, if we decide not to accept this? Where can we go from here? We are facing a crisis of immense dimensions and we have to begin at the beginning: What social movements, radical environmentalists and feminists all over the world are trying to do is to rethink the relationship between human beings and nature and amongst each other. How do we change our consumer patterns in order to reach a just worldwide distribution of energy, power, money and goods? Raw materials and energy have always come at a high price to the producing countries and the poor in developing countries. They have payed for the extremely energy intensive lifestyle in industrialised countries with wages that were not enough to live on, ecological devastation of their countries and now, with the consequences of climate change, they are paying double.

It may be that a radical shift away from centralised sources of energy such as oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy towards sustainable and decentralised sources such as renewables (wind, solar energy, water) will lead to the paradigmatic shift I am hoping for. Incidentally, this shift would also favour women in developing countries, as energy sources such as windmills and solar panels strengthen their participation in decision making and ownership. Our world economy is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, so much so that wars like the one in Iraq are being fought in order to gain or maintain control of certain areas with a wealth of fossil fuels.

But even this shift away from fossil fuels may not be enough to assure the necessary structural changes. Maybe, just as I am sure that we have to decentralise energy production, we also need to decentralise our thinking: the kind of revolution I am talking about may have to be a gradual revolution, which begins at many points at once, be it a the protests against this year’s meeting of the G8 in Heiligendamm, be it with  the budding women’s movements in Africa  I witnessed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January of this year.

I want to close with the adage of the Mexican Zapatistas: „We learn while we are walking“. What we need, is the courage to make this true – to never stop believing that another, a just and equitable world is possible and that we have to go on striving for it, even though we may not yet know exactly when we are going to arrive there and what this new world is going to look like. After all, what have we got to lose? If we do nothing, we are truly doomed, so the only way out is forward.

For information on G8-activities and protests click here

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GLOBALISATION'S BROKEN PROMISE
Saturday May 26th 2007, 7:32 pm
Filed under: FEMNET, G8, economic empowerment, globalisation, inequality

There is a new article on openDemocracy this week by Roselynn Musa Advocacy Officer at the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) in Nairobi, Kenya.

As politicians, police and protestors make ready for the G8 summit in Germany, she challenges those directing the globalisation process to address how it affects African women’s lives, and entrenches inequality.

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In Africa, globalisation builds on a history of slavery, colonialism and exploitation – a fact many recognize to have a continuing impact on the continent’s experiences of the global economy. But globalisation also interacts with a history of gender inequality, casting a long shadow over the present and the futures of Africa’s women. This combination harshly limits the lives and hopes of the female half of the population, while holding back a whole continent’s people.

Far from being a disembodied force, globalisation takes place through people, organizations and institutions, who together determine its direction. Equality and fundamental human rights are now enshrined in the basic instruments of today’s international community and are central to our vision of a democratic society. But the fine words of these documents stand in sharp contrast to the daily reality of millions of women.

Of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty today, 70 percent are women; the majority of the world’s refugees are women; female illiteracy is invariably higher than male illiteracy. Women and girl children are treated as commodities in cross border prostitution rackets and the pornography industry. Millions of girls are still subject to genital mutilation, while women in every country are regular victims of domestic violence…

To read the rest of this article click here  

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Is Micro-Credit the Answer?
Monday May 21st 2007, 10:09 am
Filed under: 50:50, aid and development, economic empowerment, globalisation, mico-credit

by Sundra Flansburg and Natalie Elwell, World Neighbors

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With the award last December of a Nobel Peace Prize to Mohammed Yunis, founder of the Grameen Bank, micro-credit has received another round of accolades and promotions as an answer to widespread poverty around the world. Give poor women access to small bank loans, so the thinking goes, and they can start micro-businesses and improve their livelihoods by competing better in free markets.

Admittedly, this is an oversimplification of Yunis’s and other micro-credit advocates’ efforts. Another version of this thinking comes recently as microfinance, and is promoted by a new group of “social entrepreneurs” who tend to rephrase goals of ending poverty with ones promoting economic empowerment. While we think that there is a place for micro-credit and micro-finance in efforts to end poverty, we believe that there are some fundamental flaws in thinking of this approach as a key one in ending poverty and improving the lives of poor women.

We urge the G8 to recognize the complexity, and especially the social aspects, of poverty in addition to the dollar aspects, and support a web of strategies that combine to build skills and capacity, reduce vulnerability and benefit women and their communities in a sustainable way.

Why Micro-Credit Isn’t the Answer

Part of the problem with micro-credit rests not with the real benefits it provides to a certain segment of the population, but rather with the expectation by some that it is the answer to rural poverty. This belief shows a lack of understanding of the complex nature of poverty. Capitalizing micro-businesses is one piece of the solution, but without a wider, holistic effort, this kind of credit will mainly benefit the entrepreneurs and slightly less poor who are able to develop business plans and make them work.

Another significant issue with micro-credit is the fact that in the vast majority of cases, control of capital stays outside the community and the money itself reverts to an outside institution. Therefore, micro-credit tends to focus on individual successes and neglects the possibilities and power of collective action and work. When control rests outside the community, it is easy to lose sight of the welfare of the borrowers and focus only on better “returns on investment.”

Additionally, micro-credit models often fail to build borrowers’ capacity to do anything but develop a market analysis and basic business plan. A large number of the world’s poor women are marginalized within their communities and even their families, and lack confidence and experience in trying something new. They have responsibility not only for contributing to family income but to caring for children and the ill, collecting water and fuel wood, preparing their family’s meals, maintaining the home and any number of assorted family responsibilities. If the bigger picture of workload and marginalization is not addressed in a significant way throughout the process, women will continue to struggle with an impossible burden.

Finally, micro-credit, but especially microfinance, rest on an unexamined assumption that free markets are the answer to social problems like poverty. They leave unchallenged the idea that the poor only need a hand up at the start and will then be able to compete with large businesses in producing and selling their wares. Susan Feiner and Drucilla Barker point out that micro-credit on its own ignores the structural reasons that women are poor and neglects the social and political work needed to ensure that women business owners and workers improve their lot and enjoy basic human rights.

(more after the jump)

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Climate Change and Women’s Work
Wednesday May 16th 2007, 10:31 am
Filed under: Africa, aid and development, climate change, economic empowerment, environment, globalisation

by WOW! Work of Women’s coordinator Sundra Flansburg and World Neighbours‘ associate vice president Natalie Elwell

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Recently released reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leave little doubt to rational minded people that climate change is happening, and that there is more to come. As we read reports and responses, government statements and reactions, however, the voices of the people who will most feel the effects seem to be lost.

What would we like G8 leaders to hear and support? We agree that many of the topics being debated are important ones for the world to consider and act on. But among the calls for alternative fuels, reduced consumption, carbon sequestering programs and so on, the G8 and others need to understand the urgency of supporting good, effective development work.

For the effects of climate change will hit the people who are already the poorest and most vulnerable. As many have noted, including Benito Müller here on OpenDemocracy, the effects of climate change are likely to exacerbate the world’s already vast inequities. In some cases it will be because those communities will be most impacted by climate disasters. In other cases it will be because those communities will be least able to withstand tragedy and bounce back.

Poor women in these communities will be heavily impacted in a wide range of ways. The women in rural, marginalized villages already work more hours than men, receive fewer benefits and have less decision making power. When water becomes harder to find, it is the women and children who put in the additional hours walking to find it and carry it back to the household. It is a similar situation with fuel wood. When children or spouses fall ill from malaria or other vector-born diseases that will increase in occurrence when water quality goes downhill, it is women who will care for them. It is women who will do without or with less when food is scarce.

Not only do women suffer the brunt of scarcity, they are often blamed for it. As trees and grasses available on family farms are overtaxed and degraded, women charged with providing fuel wood for cooking and fodder for animals are forced to tap into protected sources, which further erodes the land. Many of the people living precariously on these fragile lands are unable to effectively deal with the stress of their changing environment because they are caught in a vicious cycle of marginalization and dependency.

The IPCC report from Working Group II highlights the importance in coming decades of societies’ abilities to adapt to the changes anticipated, as well as those yet to be identified. It also notes the extent to which the ability to adapt is linked to sustainable development.

We – including the G8 – have a choice about where and how we invest in prevention work and responding to climate change. Increasingly, our efforts to address global warming must be internationally focused, pressuring governments and other entities to do their part even when they are reluctant. No doubt international relief work will be increasingly taxed as the anticipated droughts and flooding increase in intensity and number—imagine a Banda Aceh or Katrina every year. But the other side of the equation – development – must continue to be at the top of our agenda.

Basic work like local water sources, improved community health, women’s literacy, a diversity of income-earning possibilities and so on are what may make the difference between a community’s devastation or its being able to pull together to survive, and eventually thrive. There is no magic key or quick solution – whatever Thomas Friedman (1) and Jeffrey Sachsmay believe. Self-sufficiency must be the ultimate outcome and that means that the way development work is carried out is vital.

Over five decades of direct partnering with poor, rural communities around the world, World Neighbors knows that women will not, and cannot, become seriously involved in community development until their workload issues are addressed. And to be effective and sustainable, community development work must be done in partnership with communities and have significant levels of participation from women. So while it may be faster and “easier” for an international development agency to introduce and implement a water project in a village, the odds are that in five years it will be in disrepair. Work must be at the grassroots, build a village’s ability to define both the problems and the solutions, and require investment of something—time, money, skills, labor—from all parties. Additionally, women need to be actively engaged in defining the problem and deciding how to address it, or the “solution” is unlikely to be a real one for the entire community.

When poor women are able to have time for something besides daily survival, it is usually then that they have the possibility of building their skills and moving their families from precarious survival to stability. Attention to women’s involvement improves the sustainability of development efforts, and also more equitably spreads the benefits of development through families and communities. Skills like basic literacy and access to resources for diversifying income earning activities will provide essential adaptation skills, and ones to which both men and women should have equal access.

Sustainable development work can reduce the vulnerability of people and their communities to the harshest consequences of climate change. It is both a moral and financial imperative that the G8 understand the urgency of increased support of sustainable development work that integrates gender equity. As we feel the effects of climate change more and more, women are likely to be both the hardest hit, but also the keys to community resilience.

Sundra Flansburg currently coordinates the Work of Women (WOW!) initiative, a membership organization of World Neighbors that mobilizes support for improving the lives of poor women and their families who live in rural communities throughout the world. She previously developed and directed gender programs at Education Development Center, Inc., in areas including information technology, education and violence prevention.

Natalie Elwell is associate vice president for action learning, communication and gender at World Neighbors. In this role she provides leadership and support to field staff around the world in integrating gender into program work. She has just completed project to synthesize the successful gender work in our diverse program areas into a coherent approach for achieving gender equity and is currently preparing field guide for dissemination.


(1) Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005); Jeffrey D. Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2005). See also The Hijacking of the Development Debate: How Friedman and Sachs Got It Wrong by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh (World Policy Journal, summer 2006).

Picture via FlickR.

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