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Q&A: “We’re Living in a World of Global Economic Apartheid”

Interview with Kumi Naidoo

JOHANNESBURG, May 12 2007 (IPS) - Less than a fortnight remains before the seventh annual World Assembly of CIVICUS – the World Alliance for Citizen Participation. This Johannesburg-based body brings together non-governmental organisations from across the spectrum to strengthen civil society, notably where its activities are under threat.

Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of CIVICUS Credit: Moyiga Nduru

Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of CIVICUS Credit: Moyiga Nduru

The May 23-27 conference will take place in Glasgow, Scotland. This city served as the venue for the assembly last year, and will also host the meeting in 2008. The 2006, 2007 and 2008 assemblies also share a theme: ‘Acting Together for a Just World’.

To find out more, IPS writer Moyiga Nduru spoke to Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of CIVICUS.

IPS: Why the decision to retain the conference theme?

Kumi Naidoo (KN): The world is fragmenting rather than uniting at the moment: there are more fault lines that are emerging, North-South divisions are strengthening, regional divisions are strengthening, unfortunately internal conflicts are strengthening…So the theme ‘Acting Together for a Just World’ is relevant and timeless.

IPS: How many organisations are you expecting to see represented in Scotland? Will they be the same groups that attended the last assembly?

KN: I think we’ll have at least a 50 percent return rate. However, I should say that it’s not necessarily the same person from the organisation who was there last year that will come again. It’s good in cases where that happens, but from our perspective it’s not a bad thing to have different people, so that we can build relationships more broadly.

In terms of numbers, we hope it will be more or less like it was last year when about 600 people from around 110 countries attended.

IPS: The World Assembly is taking place ahead of the G8 summit in Germany, for the eight leading industrialised nations, which is set for June. Are you hoping that the conference will deliver a message to G8 leaders – and if so, on what issues?

KN: Debt cancellation, improving the quality of aid, increasing the quantity of aid, trade justice, gender equality – and corruption and good governance.

Just two years ago in Scotland itself, in Gleneagles, all sorts of nice commitments were made (by G8 leaders). On debt cancellation, they cancelled for 14 African countries and four Latin American countries. We wanted 56 countries to benefit from the deal.

The G8 have dragged their heels on trade negotiations. They are focussing on the selfish interests of their own countries. The European farmers, for example, dump poultry in Ghana. The Ghanaian farmers are screwed in their own national market because the European farmers dump poultry at next to nothing…We’re living in a world of global economic apartheid…These are the types of messages we’ll be taking to the G8.

IPS: Looking at discussions that are scheduled to take place at the assembly about civil society, what are some of the main issues that will be raised?

KN: One of the things we will be doing consistently throughout this assembly, as we did in the last, is focusing on civil society activists who are in prison: we pick 20 people, and focus on them on the basis of regional diversity. We want to make the point that this is taking place across the world.

We’ll be opening the World Assembly – as we did last year – with a focus on two Ethiopian colleagues, Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie, who have been in prison now for more than 18 months. We have been campaigning for their release. We met with (Ethiopian Prime Minister) Meles Zenawi just over a year ago to plead on their behalf. We were optimistic, based on things that Zenawi had told us, that they would have a fast trial.

IPS: The war on terror is said to have undermined civil society…What effects have you noted in this regard?

KN: The war on terror has a devastating impact on democracy generally, and the space for civil society specifically. Through their actions, the United States and United Kingdom have sent a message that if you have a (security) threat you can legislatively detain people without trial. You can engage in torture.

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