WTO, IMF Must Consider the Poor


By Sifelani Tsiko

October 3, 2006

There is need to build strong social movements to demand greater accountability and the adoption of pro-poor policies from multilateral institutions as Africa prepares to host the World Social Forum for the first time on its soil in January next year. Development experts told journalists and Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) goodwill ambassadors who met recently in Victoria Falls that emerging activists in eastern and southern Africa must come together to strengthen the African civil society's engagement on World Trade Organisation (WTO) process to fight against trade injustices.

"The poverty which is going on in Africa is not natural, it is being manufactured by very selfish people in the WTO, IMF and World Bank," says John Phiri, the founding director of Global Justice Zambia. "Rich countries continue to dominate global politics for their own interest. These institutions (multilateral agencies) work on one principle -- the high standard of living of rich nations is dependent on the low standard of living in the developing poor countries."

This principle, he argues, is being used to siphon Africa's resources for the benefit of the high living standards of people in rich countries. "Africa has been put in a position where it keeps on importing poverty and exporting wealth through debt servicing," Phiri says. "Africans must realise that some G8 countries and multinationals are not up to any good. These guys are using globalisation as a new tool of slavery to perpetuate poverty and hunger in Africa."

Rallying together, he says, will help raise consciousness among African communities and deepen awareness of global economic and social injustices. This, he says, is critical in the building of strong social movements and to ignite passion in the fight against Western domination as well as pushing the multilateral institutions to adopt pro-poor policies and increase the space for fair trade and an equitable distribution of wealth.

IMF and WB liberalisation policies have opened African economies to exploitation by rich countries and multinationals worsening poverty levels and leaving the continent saddled with a debt of more than US$320 billion. Development activists say the Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPAs), WTO trade policies, World Bank and IMF policies were worsening poverty levels in the global south and have had negative implications on economic relations between the European Union and the Caribbean, Pacific and African countries.

They say the process of the negotiations is "imbalanced and rushed" allowing the EU to impose its interests and agenda and dictate the momentum of the negotiations to suit its own needs and purposes. "The European Community has constructed new rhetoric to sell EPAs and justify continuation of its mandate. It has encouraged false hopes of increase in European development assistance to ACP countries and used different forms of pressure, including aid conditionality to continue to override the reluctance of ACP groups to yield to its interests," says an expert.

"We have to renew our commitment in the fight against poverty and broaden our coalition," says Thomas Deve of the Mwelekeo waNGO (MWENGO), a development centre for NGOs in Eastern and Southern Africa. Former Malawi vice president and GCAP goodwill ambassador Dr Justin Malewezi says: "Talking is very important to generate ideas. It raises the level of awareness and consciousness which can help build a broad coalition against poverty in the region."

One third of deaths, some 18 million people a year or 50 000 per day, are due to poverty-related causes, according to statistics from UN agencies. Every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases -- that's more than 30 000 per day and one in every three seconds according to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef). It is also estimated that more than one billion people live on less than US$1 a day according to a UN human development report of 2003. An estimated 600 million children live in absolute poverty while about 800 million people go to bed hungry every day. Worrying though, is the fact that the three richest people in the world control more wealth than all 600 million people living in the world's poorest countries.

"It's a shame to us. (Zambia's High Indebted Country status) There is no joy for us being termed poor," says Phiri. "This is a deliberate ploy by the IMF to make our leaders feel poor and inferior yet Zambia is rich in natural resources. Poverty reduction is an IMF ideology that fosters inferiority complexes among our leaders. They have forced our leaders to adopt very harsh policies. In Zambia, they have even told our government not to employ 10 000 teachers and yet this is what our government has to do to achieve the MDGs."

He says there is need to mobilise people in the region to call on our leaders to adopt a different paradigm and new approach to poverty reduction. "This will give us hope to come out of our misery," Phiri says. Henry Valot, an activist from South Africa says the GCAP Stand Up Against Poverty campaign is a mobilisation initiative designed to coincide with global mobilisations around the International Day of Poverty Eradication and the white band day on October 17.

The Stand Up or Millennium Campaign will see different people and organisations holding a number of events, wearing white bands -- a symbol of the fight against poverty and standing up for a moment at various places in support of poverty eradication and the achievement of MDGs. "We need to remain vigilant and consistently remind our governments of their commitments (MDGs)," says Valot.

Mike Movapedi, Gabs FM DJ and Botswana stand-up comedian says: "In Botswana we are not happy to be called rich. Riches don't filter to the majority of our people. Diamonds have not benefited the poor but rich multinationals such as DeBeers." The Botswana GCAP goodwill ambassador adds: "Poverty should not be taken as God-given or a permanent state. It's man-made and it can be ended." He says the glossy picture painting Botswana as awash with diamonds and statistics showing this southern African country as a middle income country is misleading and false in a country where the majority do not control or own their natural resources.

The UN estimates that unfair trade rules deny poor countries US$700 billion every year while 70 percent of that trade is controlled by multinationals. Other activists say it is high time Africa also finds solutions to its own problems. "We have to do something as Africans," says Bishop Paul Mususu of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia. "When we address poverty all other things fall in place. As I stand before you now, time is closing in for politicians who pledged to achieve the MDGs by 2015." "Next year we will be blowing the half time whistle. We want to dramatise it and mobilise everyone in the fight against poverty." Says Movapedi: "The onus is upon us to find solutions to the challenges we are facing. It's very important for us to strengthen collaboration as well as ensuring that people within the region know what MDGs are all about."

And, as Africa prepares for the World Social Forum, it is important for its activists to join hands with others in the global South, social forces in Latin America and Asia to intensify resistance and diversify the frontiers of resistance against global capitalism and its agencies. "By remaining a space of reflection, encounter and debate, a space for sharing ideas, proposals and experiences, the WSF in Nairobi must bring the unique concerns of the African agenda," says one development activist.

Bishop Mususu, quoting the Bible, reminds the world about the poor: "Give justice to the weak and the orphan. Rescue the weak and the needy and deliver them from the wicked."

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More Information on Global Governance and the Three Sisters
More Information on NGOs and the Bretton Woods Institutions