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Africa Must Move Forward

May 11, 2009, 4:56 AM

The Forum on the participation of NGOs in the 45th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights offers stakeholders yet another opportunity to think up mechanisms for promoting and protecting human rights on the continent; it is also a forum for moving the continent forward in respect of peace, progress and prosperity. Since its inception in 1988, the African Commission, now regarded as the rally point for the defence of human rights in Africa, has been working with NGOs and other members of civil society to enhance its work.

In her address, the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights Her Excellency Justice Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said: "Africa is rapidly changing. Even though there are little signs of progress in the protection of human rights, there are still huge problems. According to some figures, millions of people in Africa suffer chronic poverty.

They live with hunger, illness and injury - isolated from adequate public service and social security systems. They have lost their land to war or big capital investments. They continue tilling their land and carry the impossible burden of expensive agricultural inputs, overdependence on chemical pesticides and the general degradation of the natural resources surrounding them."

It helps a lot to be able to identify a problem, as it shows a commitment to tackling it. Disease, despair, deprivation, and death are an African reality. It has been worsened in recent years by senseless wars and genocide that have left many African countries reeling - politically, socially and economically.

But the antidote to this anemia is not beyond the capacity of Africans, provided they as a people must will themselves to take their problems head-on. They, as it has been suggested, must begin by building their capacity. And where it is already built, it must be enhanced to meet the challenges posed by the rapidly changing Africa.

This Forum, like many similar other forums in and around the continent, is a platform to work on the problems facing the continent with a view to finding workable, homegrown and lasting solutions. It is unwise to ape values that ignore our peculiar realities; we will be better off to merge the useful elements of other values with our own cultural values in order to have a value system that is more responsive to our needs and challenges.

The observation of the Chairperson of the African Commission is instructive here. "Africa is at the grips of a politics of fear where our ethnic and religious identities are being manipulated in a power struggle that is not ours. We are told that democracy is one of the answers. But we know that liberal democracy has shown its limits in preventing and addressing violence and ecological destruction and has not produced any major breakthroughs in overcoming chronic poverty and systemic injustice.                            

Donor-supported poverty alleviation programmes are mostly technocratic in their approach, and less focused on the imperative of power sharing with poor and disadvantaged communities."

We hold that NGOs on the continent must commit themselves with sincerity and honesty to the triple pillar of literacy, food security and free expression.

These are the pillars on which the African Renaissance must be built. Together with governments, NGOs must see to it that every African child enjoys good education, is spared the trauma of hunger and is allowed to express him or herself without fear of being thrown in jail. Until and unless Africans at every level work purposefully towards these ends the continent will remain stagnant, incessantly plagued by disease, destruction, despair and desolation. But we insist consistently that Africans have what it takes to move the continent forward so long as they are able to clear their minds of doubts and pessimism.

"Freedom is the recognition of necessity."

Engels, Friedrich