Africa, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

Q&A: "A Threat to One is a Threat to All"

Joyce Mulama interviews TAJUDEEN ABDUL RAHEEM, panafricanist

KAMPALA, May 26 2009 (IPS) - On May 24, one of the leading advocates of Africa’s unity and liberation, Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, was killed in a car accident in Nairobi, Kenya.

Tajudeen Abdul Raheem: 'Don't agonise, organise!' Credit: Justice Africa

Tajudeen Abdul Raheem: 'Don't agonise, organise!' Credit: Justice Africa

Tajudeen was renowned for his committed panafricanism, the directness of his intellect, and his ability to fearlessly pose the most difficult questions in a way that demanded answers.

Among his many hats, Tajudeen served as deputy director for the United Nations’ Millennium Campaign, which encouraged popular involvement in achieving the development goals the world has set as targets to achieve by 2015.

Commemorating his life and work, IPS republishes an interview conducted on the sidelines of the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, in which he assesses Africa’s progress towards the MDGs at the half-way point.

IPS: Where has there been progress in Africa with the MDGs? Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem: When you look at specific countries there has been some progress, especially on education, child mortality and also HIV/AIDS. A country like Uganda now has free primary and secondary education, where millions of children who were not able to go school are now going to school. Malawi, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana have also made tremendous progress in providing free primary education, even though there are still many challenges.

A country like Malawi, which used to be among the poorest countries in the world, has dropped infant mortality by 30 percent; it is only second to Peru globally. Rwanda, which has just come out of genocide…is actually doing pretty well on a lot of these issues — including education, technology and women’s empowerment. It has more women’s representation in parliament than most Western countries. This shows (that) if priorities are set well and there is political will, it is possible to achieve MDGs.

IPS: Which MDGs are you most concerned about? TA: One of the biggest scandals in the implementation of MDGs, and one that civil societies and the media really need to focus on, are the MDGs in relation to women. Indeed, all MDGs are about women because they are the majority, and therefore real development cannot take place without full participation and empowerment of women.

If you look at many countries, because of providing vaccinations in time, mosquito nets and other interventions, there is a decrease in child mortality — like in the case of Malawi. But across Africa, the maternal mortality rate is scandalously high, and you ask yourself: if our children are living longer, why are our mothers dying?

MDGs need to be seen as an integrated platform to address maternal health. Many women die due to complications at child birth. Many more die as a result of lack of transport to access health centres. If you have to transport a woman in labour on a bicycle or carry her — literally — by the time you reach the centre she will have died.

Some of these centres do not have doctors, nurses or midwives, because we are losing a lot of trained medical staff to better pay and better working conditions abroad. To achieve MDGs effectively, we have to look at all these aspects.

IPS: To what extent have wealthy nations met their part of their bargain with helping achieve the goals? TA: They have written off debts of some countries. Studies have shown that where debt has been written off, and when you have a responsible government, debt relief can work. Malawi, Uganda, and Ghana are good examples where money that should have been used to service debt has been transferred into social and economic programmes.

But the biggest threat by the rich countries is the unjust nature of international trade. Africa loses as a result of tariff barriers, the dumping of cheap goods from the industrialised world and denial of access to its markets. Our farmers are using hoes to farm, they are not subsidised — while the European farmers are subsidised, yet they are the ones with tractors, and employ all sorts of modern farming methods. This is killing the capacity of our farmers to compete even locally.

It is important that the rich nations address this matter. If Africa does not achieve the MDGs, the reason will not only be internal but also external dimensions, because the rich countries are not collaborating, especially on goal eight (to “Develop a global partnership for development”).

IPS: Is there enough pressure to compel rich countries to honour their commitments regarding the MDGs? TA: Civil society has been active in holding international campaigns against the selfish interests of the West. It is critical for the world to realise that a threat to one is a threat to all, that the prosperity of the West is structurally linked to the extreme poverty of the South. It is in their own interest to make sure that we create a better world for all.

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