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Q&A: &#39GCAP Is About Political Engagement&#39

Interview with Irfan Mufti, GCAP campaign manager

BAHAWALPUR, Pakistan, Oct 15 2007 (IPS) - Rights activist Irfan Mufti, currently working as campaign manager for the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), is confident that this year will see the movement influencing national budgets as well as the policies of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Irfan Mufti, GCAP campaign manager  Credit: CIVICUS

Irfan Mufti, GCAP campaign manager Credit: CIVICUS

In an interview with IPS correspondent Aoun Abbas, this tireless campaigner, who has been the convenor of the Pakistan Social Forum (PSF) for the past three years, says GCAP already has a large presence in South Asia, notorious for its disparities. On Oct. 17, international day for eradication of poverty, this Pakistani city will see the unfurling of a 10 km-long monster banner covered with the signatures of millions of people who want to see a change.

IPS: How will this year’s ‘stand up and speak out’ programme work to project the demands of the people?

Irfan Mufti (IM): There are two elements. There is a petition or a declaration which is being given to all the national coalitions that will be read out. It will cover specific demands such as increasing social development budgets and reducing military spending. Local policy documents will be prepared by the local coalitions. We have set up a channel in which all these coalitions will report their petitions on our website and these will be turned into a document that will be presented to the World Bank and the IMF presidents in Washington DC. So we are aiming to have these voices heard at both the local level as well as at the global level. Pictures of the day’s events will be displayed in Washington. These are the kind of immediate actions that we will take, but in the medium term we are preparing a communication strategy to use these figures and summaries of actions taken on Oct. 16 and 17 in global advocacy.

IPS: Where does South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region stand in all this?

IM: We are quite strong in South Asian countries – India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and Pakistan – and also in South-east Asian countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. We have recently gone into China. In other parts, there are problems in terms of mobilisation and reaching out. In countries like Korea, Japan, Thailand and Cambodia we do not have a very strong campaign. But in Australia we have had a very good response to our campaign … last year 100,000 people ‘stood up’ there.


IPS: What has been the reaction of the governments of the South Asian countries to your demands?

IM: It is not all positive. However, there are good examples such as what we have seen in Bangladesh. Under pressure from the Bangladesh GCAP coalition, a court has asked the government not to sign a deal with IMF under the conditionality it was asking. So there are examples of successful lobbying. In Nepal, the GCAP coalition has met the new Prime Minister and given him policy demands … as a result of this meeting a commission set up in Nepal is now reviewing demands. In Pakistan we are trying to start a broad-based dialogue with the government to present our demands.

IPS: So you think that by achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), poverty can be eradicated?

IM: No. We call them Minimum Development Goals. They do not represent the actual demands of people, but at least we think that this is the minimum agenda that the heads of states have signed. We think that we can hold them to account on the basis of their commitments, but we do not think that they guarantee actual development. But we still use MDGs as our advocacy point and each country should at least achieve these.

IPS: What is the main thrust this year?

IM: The basic thrust follows the premise that until the society is organised and mobilised it is not possible to influence policy. So, the first phase of the campaign is to revive and activate social elements in politics. There may not be an immediate change. But definitely in future, as our numbers increase, our political influence will grow. Our engagements and platforms will also increase and we will be able to achieve much better results.

IPS: What are the other objectives of the GCAP campaign?

IM: To summarise, it is basically policy focused mobilisation that is driven by and led from the South. While a key strategy is to mobilise as many people as possible all over the world, there is the aspect of creating alternatives. What we are trying to do is prepare demands which are actually based on people’s opinions and views and create policy documents that are sent to all national coalitions. They will use these as lobbying and advocacy tools and we are also using the same documents with our engagements with the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation or G8 leaders or others. So, in a way we are also suggesting alternatives.

IPS: GCAP has shown extraordinary solidarity.

IM: We are trying to develop north and south solidarity. This is a very important factor because now you can see that this campaign is active in southern countries as well as in northern countries in Europe, North America, Australia and Japan. Solidarity is a strong component.

IPS: Last year GCAP and the UN Millennium Campaign set a Guinness World Record for the largest single coordinated mobilisation in history, when 23.5 million people in more than 100 countries stood up against poverty on Oct. 17. Do you expect to break the record this year?

Irfan Mufti: That is our effort. But this year we are not only trying to break that record in term of numbers but we have also set up four other key campaign objectives. We are trying to spread our service in new parts of the world. Last year it was around 87 countries. This year, we have reached out to 106 countries and I am quite hopeful that the final figure will be around 120 countries.

IPS: It has been said that this year’s campaign is more political. Why?

IM: One objective is to influence political leaders. That is why we have introduced the concept of delegations and ambassadors to political leaders. In some 36 countries these delegations of local coalitions are meetings the finance ministers, prime ministers and head of the states to present demands. This year we are not only focusing on &#39stand up and speak out&#39 but we have also given many other activities like the giant banners. Human chains are being organised, there are going to be women’s tribunals. So there is whole menu of activities and it will not be just the moderate, softer action of standing and speaking out. There is definitely a political element and that is because our global body is very much sensitive to the reality that we should be focusing on political side of our demands. We need to understand the political side of global governance. Injustice is happening at the global level. The global players which are big financial players and political players try to manipulate their interests and it is not possible to influence that without having a very strong political voice from the people and civil society. GCAP believes in engagement. We are not there just to organise protests and reject every thing. We believe in preparing alternatives, we believe in presenting people’s views and going into dialogue and negotiation.

IPS: what are your expectations from this year’s campaign?

IM: I am hoping that in some countries we will be able to influence certain policies and budgets. I also hope that at a global level, we will also be able to influence the policies of the Bank and the IMF. I am also hoping that through the process around WTO and G8, we will be able to bring some improvements in development aid to Southern countries. For that we are preparing a communication strategy which will be implemented immediately after the campaign day, and after that we will start lobbying.

 
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