Africa, Headlines

POLITICS: Commonwealth Officials in Nigeria Ahead of the December Summit

Toye Olori

LAGOS, Sep 3 2003 (IPS) - Preparations are at top gears as Nigeria gets set to host heads of state and government of the Commonwealth summit in the capital Abuja on Dec. 5-8.

As part of the preparations, President Olusegun Obasanjo at weekend took an assessment tour of the park where leaders to this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) are expected to plant commemorative trees during the summit.

As an indication that Nigeria, as a host country, is at the crucial phase in its preparations for the meeting, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Don Mckinnon Sunday began a four-day visit to Abuja. Following his arrival, Mckinnon inspected facilities at the organisation’s secretariat, the conference centres and hotels.

At a meeting with Obasanjo on Tuesday, Mckinnon appealed to the Nigerian leader to allow CHOGM secretariat the use of some of the facilities such as the computers installed for the 8th All African Games scheduled for October, during the summit.

The meeting, which is held bi-annually is aimed at finding ways to make life better for the more than 1.7 billion citizens of the Commonwealth, he said.

Since preparations started in December last year, a number of teams from the Commonwealth Secretariat have been to Nigeria to map out strategies for a successful hosting of the conference.

Perhaps the most important part of Mckinnon’s visit to Nigeria was a talk he gave on globalisation.

At a lecture organised by the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs as part of the sensitisation programme for the CHOGM, Mckinnon and Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice-president, berated the developed countries for lack of commitment to assisting poor countries.

During the lecture, titled ”Commonwealth and Africa: A precious partnership”, Mckinnon, accused the European Union, the United States and Japan of not living up to their commitment to assist poor countries.

Both Mckinnon and Abubakar criticised the West for insisting that poor nations should not subsidise agriculture.

Mckinnon said agricultural subsidies have a hugely distorting effect on the economy, amounting to one billion U.S. dollars per day, or six times the current level of global aid.

While the average EU company receives heavy funding in subsidies, 2.8 billion people live on less than two U.S. dollars a day, which translates to half of the world’s population. Mckinnon said the subsidies reflect the belief that ”you’d be better as a European cow”.

”The simple truth is that the EU, the U.S. and Japan have not lived up to their commitments. It is high time the rhetoric about the benefit of trade liberalisation started matching the reality,” he said.

In his discussions with leaders of Commonwealth developing countries, Mckinnon said the issue of imbalance in international trade had become a recurring decimal. ”The abolition of agricultural subsidies is one thing that the rich countries could do to tackle global poverty,” he argued.

Mckinnon, however, assured member-nations of the Commonwealth of a veritable platform to pursue their cases against the domineering influence of the United States and European Union in international trade.

”As a truly multilateral organisation, the Commonwealth is ideally placed to represent the interests of its developing member-countries in the face of the overwhelming political influence of the U.S. and EU in international trade,” he said.

The commonwealth is an organisation of about 50 independent states, which were formally parts of the British Empire, established to encourage trade and friendly relations among its members.

At the celebration of the 2003 Commonwealth Day in Abuja early this year, President Obasanjo urged Commonwealth countries to redouble efforts to make globalisation more inclusive by ensuring that issues affecting the future of their citizens are not excluded from discussions at global fora.

”If Commonwealth countries are serious about eradicating poverty, fighting disease, opening their doors of learning and providing economic opportunities, they must ensure that every voice was heard at global economic fora,” Obasanjo said.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) meets in Cancun, Mexico, next week to find ways to bridge the gap between rich and poor countries.

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