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AFRICA: Civil Society to AU: Investment Must Address Marginalisation

Diletta Varlese, Terna Gyuse and Joyce Mulama

SIRTE, Libya, CAPE TOWN and NAIROBI, Jul 3 2009 (IPS) - No gathering hosted by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is ever dull, and the Thirteenth Ordinary Session of the African Union, concluding in Sirte, Libya today has not disappointed.

Will AU deliberations lead to stronger food sovereignty? Credit:  Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Will AU deliberations lead to stronger food sovereignty? Credit: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

A surprise invitation to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is facing down massive popular protest over his disputed re-election as president, briefly threatened to overshadow the meeting, but he did not in the end attend.

The other source of drama was the renewed challenge to the International Criminal Court, on grounds that it unfairly targets Africans. With Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir (who has been charged with grave war crimes in Sudan by the ICC) a confident and welcome guest in Sirte, a proposal originating with Libya calling for non-cooperation of AU member states in the arrest or handover of ICC indictees was unexpectedly put forward for discussion.

As is customary, the meeting of heads of state took place behind closed doors, but signs of tension leaked out Thursday when Gaddafi briefly walked out of the meeting, reportedly frustrated by continued opposition to his dream to strengthen continental government through a “united states of Africa“.

There is general agreement that the AU will move towards greater integration, but few leaders are prepared to accede to Libya’s demands that this summit give powers over foreign relations, trade and defence to a new African Authority.

Brazil in Africa

Brazil's trade with Africa has expanded rapidly since Lula took office in 2003, from five billion dollars to $25 billion in 2008. The Brazilian president was accompanied to Libya by a business delegation, including representatives of construction giants Andrade Gutierrez, Queiroz Galvão and Odebrecht. Brazilian companies are involved in oil exploration and the construction of highways, a light rail system and a new airport in Tripoli.

Three cooperation agreements between Brazil and AU were announced, covering agricultural cooperation on training small famers and improving sales techniques and market access; as well as extending a model project with cotton that is already in progress in Mali.

Civil society

In contrast to recent AU summits, where civil society has been gradually gaining greater access to proceedings, few if any non-governmental organisations were present in Sirte.

Ruthpearl Ngángá, of the Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development, which works on issues of social justice from offices in 17 African countries, says non-governmental organisations found it very difficult to get documentation to attend, and warned that without participation by civil society, it will be difficult to gain wide support for implementing any decisions taken by the AU.

“African civil society participation and engagement in every summit of the African Union has seen them maintain significant influence in addressing decision makers on behalf of citizens of the continent. Their evident low participation and presence in Sirte makes it difficult to visualise African citizens actively involved in driving the AU agenda.”

And that engagement will be necessary if there is to be meaningful progress on the theme of this year’s summit: investment in agriculture for economic growth and food security.

Speaking from Nairobi, where ACORD and others organised a symposium on agriculture on Jul.2, Ngángá said Africa’s agriculture has been on the AU’s agenda previously, but only seven of the 57 African states are meeting pledges made in the 2003 Maputo Declaration which committed AU member states to spend at least ten percent of their budget on agriculture

“A key demand from civil society would be to focus on investment that increases countries’ food sovereignty – the right of its peoples to determine their own food and agricultural systems. It must focus on providing adequate nutrition for all its citizens, more than on increasing economic gain.”

South-South cooperation

A prominent guest in Libya was Brazilian president Luiz Ignacio de Silva, better known as Lula. He called for investment in family farming and the creation of jobs and higher incomes in rural areas.

“The Brazilian experience proves that productivity in small-scale agriculture and sustainability in food production are crucial to eradicate hunger. Investment in agriculture that will lead to job generation is the best means of ensuring a dignified living to our citizens,” he said.

The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) established an office in Ghana in 2006, in response to growing requests for technical assistance from Africa. Based at Ghana’s Council of Scientific and Industrial research, the Embrapa office identifies research needs that are then worked on by Brazilian researchers. The office also organises training for African agricultural workers.

Lula also spoke in favour of Africa following Brazil’s lead in becoming biofuel producers, albeit without sacrificing food production.

“For that reason, I have commissioned studies for the implementation, in Africa, of a model farm in association with a pilot plant for ethanol manufacturing,” he declared.

Touching on the global economic crisis, Lula argued for changes to the world’s political architecture. He called for greater influence for the South in institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and criticised trade barriers and domestic subsidies by developed countries on agricultural products.

“Within the framework of the (Doha) Round, Brazil is going to grant access to its market, free from tariffs and quotas, to products originated in relatively less developed countries,” he declared.

He also sought African support for Brazil’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and asked AU leaders to make a declaration against the coup that deposed Honduran president Manuel Zelaya on Jun. 28.

With a finely judged sense of the microclimate of an African Union summit, Lula spoke of a historic debt owed to Africa by the United States, Europe and Brazil with regards to the slave trade and colonisation, which he said was “impossible to settle from the financial point of view”.

Outcomes

Time will tell what concrete actions will emerge from this latest summit of African leadership. There is the prospect of strengthening the African Union’s peacekeeping force in Sudan and Somalia; the lifting of Madagascar’s suspension after formation of a transitional government there; and the deepening of a potentially fruitful partnership with Brazil on agriculture.

On agriculture, Ngángá offered this advice: “Increased investment in agriculture must include targeted investment in small scale farming, and in particular providing incentives to women small-scale farmers, building the entrepreneurship capacity of women to engage in agribusiness and grow cash crops, and ensuring that state investments in social protection, particularly those targeting children, are not sacrificed.

“Investing in agriculture goes hand in hand with addressing the marginalisation of entire sectors of African society.”

 
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