Dear AFJN Members and Friends!
We hope this issue of Around Africa finds you in good health. Things continue to happen at a rapid pace here. We are maintaining our focus on the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, the trade bill working its way through Congress that AFJN has opposed up to now. By the time we publish our June issue, we should know its fate and will report on it to you at that time. Please be ready for an action alert if, as is possible, we feel the final version of AGOA still works against the interests of Africa's majority.
Please mark carefully the notice in this issue about our 2000 Annual Meeting which will take place during the September Mission Congress in Chicago. You will shortly receive an invitation to the Mission Congress. Make every effort to come if you can! It will be an exciting and important event for the entire missionary community in the U.S.
We wish you blessings and peace!
Larry J. Goodwin, Executive Director
Jesuit Centre for Theological
The JCTR takes on issues like how Zambia’s debt burden penalizes poor people, how the cost of living affects ordinary incomes, the effects of global trade policy on Zambia and the need to mobilize NGOs, trade unions and students to engage the government and International Financial Institutions on economic justice. For example, its Food Basket Project tracks what it costs a family of six to buy food for a month. Using basic survey techniques, it has found that in the last few years the cost of food has gone up while median incomes have remained static. The Debt Cancellation Project, a joint effort with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace that has gathered over 300,000 signatures in Zambia, has proposed a mechanism whereby debt savings would be placed in a social fund for poverty alleviation. The proposal envisions a steering committee comprised of government ministers, NGOs and parliamentarians to be accountable for the fund. In a related initiative, the JCTR is investigating the scope of debt inherited from the apartheid era and its continuing effects on the economic life of the people. Preliminary results indicate that a large portion of the current debt stock is apartheid caused.
In the face of the severe criticisms of World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment policies, the JCTR and the Zambian Jubilee 2000 campaign have had to determine their stance toward recent claims of improved poverty alleviation policies by the WB and IMF. While continuing to push for complete debt cancellation, they will maintain a critical posture toward the WB and IMF, working to ensure that debt savings genuinely help poor people. Along those lines, the JCTR will participate in developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) for Zambia, one of the WB/IMF requirements for debt relief arising from the agreements reached in Cologne, Germany last year. Mphuka noted that civil society organizations in Zambia are still relatively weak and need to strengthen their platforms in order to have maximum impact on the PRSP process. Importantly, organizations that legitimately speak for civil society must be clearly identified, and through them information passed to and gathered from the grassroots about the effects of WB/IMF policies. This needs to be done using local languages, drama and other means of facilitating communication with ordinary citizens.
The urgency of involving grassroots people in the PRSP process is underscored by the fact that many people are reduced to eating one meal a day as a direct result of WB/IMF structural adjustment programs in Zambia, Mphuka said. A JCTR survey indicates that debt savings should first go to service the health sector, but that agriculture, food security and education are critically important. He explained that food production for local consumption in the rural areas is inadequate.
Trade was another issue addressed by Mphuka. Participants at the session asked him to reflect on the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade bill now making its way through the U.S. Congress. One of its purported advantages for Africa is to increase the importation of local textiles and apparel duty-free to the U.S. market. Questioners wanted to know who would actually benefit from the textile provisions in the bill. Mphuka pointed out that when Zambia started to liberalize in 1991, the textile industry was among the first hit because it could not compete with the influx of cheaper second-hand imports. Most of the textile industry that still exists is already owned by foreign rather than local interests. Many of the profits are expatriated and local workers are often relegated to the lowest paying jobs. The large number of unemployed in the country serves to keep wages down which likewise restricts the tax base. In his view, the pattern of foreign ownership and inadequate wages means that AGOA's textile provisions would make little difference to local workers.
He also remarked that pressure from the WB/IMF to privatize industries could often have detrimental effects on workers. For example, the WB insisted that the government not raise the minimum wage as a way to keep costs down, even though, as seen in the Food Basket Project, incomes have not kept up with the rise in food prices.
Mpuka came back repeatedly to the need for civil society to take an active role in the country's economic decisions, including ones involving WB/IMF prescriptions because of their direct impact on ordinary peoples' lives.
AFJN would be very interested to know what knowledge or experience you, our members and readers, have of the textile industry in Africa. In countries with which you are familiar, who controls the textile industry? Are workers paid a fair wage? Does the industry employ a significant number of women? Are workers allowed to organize? Do they enjoy fair working conditions? Are children employed? Are local textiles, cloth and thread used in production? Does the industry benefit the country in a major way through employment, local consumption and export earnings, or does it have the capacity to do so? Is the textile industry a means out of poverty for local people?
Please send me your views. They could be valuable to us as we try to assess U.S. trade policy toward Africa. Sharing your experience is an important way to be an active member of AFJN's network.
With appreciation … Larry Goodwin
Jubilee 2000/USA Rallies in the
Less remarked by the media coverage of the event but perhaps more important
than the April 9 rally itself was the lobbying people did the next day. Over 800
Jubilee activists, an impressive number, spent Monday on Capitol Hill visiting
their members of Congress, using the power of their citizenship to advocate with
their senators and representatives to heed Jubilee 2000's call for justice and
compassion. The U.S. government has still not come through with its share of
funding for the debt relief agreement forged in Cologne, Germany last year.
AFJN, working closely with other social justice groups in the Jubilee 2000
Campaign, will keep up its efforts to make that happen.
Africa Peace Tour 2000
AFJN Policy Analyst Ezekiel Pajibo was one of the featured presenters on the peace tour. He has taken part in this important educational and student awareness event for the past several years.
Since the present regime came to power, international goodwill toward the
country has been squandered. The material conditions of ordinary Liberians have
not improved markedly since the end of the war and the country continues to
flirt with chaos as human rights are abused with impunity, the press is muzzled
and Liberians abroad remain uncertain about returning to their country. The
speaker called for international public opinion to press the Liberian government
to respect democratic liberties and for increased humanitarian support to
improve the living standards of Liberians.
Reports of the latest devastating famine in Ethiopia, where some eight million people are at risk of starvation, once more pose a moral dilemma to the international community. Several press accounts have stated that the famine alarm was raised several months ago, yet international response has been exceedingly slow. The causes of the famine were apparent. Karl Vick, writing in the Washington Post (April 24, 2000), described them as "… a complicated mix of weather cycles, inefficient farming practices, rapid population growth and a war that discourages international aid." For more than three years there has been no rain, largely because La Nina shifted the rains toward Southern Africa which caused the floods in Mozambique. Farming practices in Ethiopia are almost exclusively dependent on rainfall. Irrigation methods are reportedly hardly employed. At the same time, since 1984 the population has increased by 50% to 63 million people, 85% of whom eke out a livelihood by farming.
Added to this mix is the border war with Eritrea that is siphoning off the government's meager resources and providing the international community with a reason for not speeding relief supplies to the area. U.S. policymakers should take into consideration the causes of famine in Ethiopia as described by Vick while considering effective forms of assistance. U.S. support for the early warning system in place in Ethiopia is a major step in this direction, but the information gathered must be treated with a great sense of urgency. More importantly, U.S. policymakers need to support economic development initiatives that address long-term food security. The U.S. must also increase its diplomatic engagement with Addis Ababa and Asmara in order to help end the bewildering and needless border war between the two former allies.
UNITA Sanctions Report
Sanctions imposed on UNITA in 1993 have proved most unsuccessful. Since then, UNITA has made more than $3.7 billion from trading in diamonds. Human rights organizations, arms control groups, church leaders and Angolan civil society representatives have insisted on the need to tighten sanctions and hold accountable those responsible for sanctions busting. A UN commission set up to monitor the problem produced a report that was released in mid-March. The report explicitly names countries complicit in UNITA's violation of international sanctions. For example, it accuses Bulgaria and Ukraine of involvement in arms deals and military training for UNITA. It charges Belgium with looking the other way while diamonds from UNITA controlled areas were sold in Antwerp; and blames Burkina Faso and Togo for providing certification for UNITA smuggled diamonds and arms purchases. The report identifies Rwanda as a conduit for arms shipment to UNITA. The commission goes on to recommend arms embargoes and diplomatic isolation against nations that have intentionally broken the sanctions. After the report was issued, the UN decided to monitor the situation for another six months.
Meanwhile, the Angolan conflict, described as Africa's longest continuous war, is responsible for more than a million people killed and another million rendered refugees or displaced people. At least 65,000 Angolans have lost arms and/or legs because of the land mines used in the conflict. Nonetheless, both sides continue to employ these abhorrent weapons whose victims are overwhelmingly civilians, mainly children and women. The Angolan government has been described by some sources as one of the most corrupt in Africa. International organizations have alleged that it is using the war as a cover for siphoning off oil revenues for personal profit. For its part, UNITA is considered one of Africa's most brutal military factions, plundering Angola's mineral wealth to wage a campaign of terror.
The lack of urgency on the part of the international community to help end
the Angolan conflict reinforces the suspicion that African lives are expendable.
Angola's horrifying war and accompanying humanitarian disaster, and the
international community's lack of an adequate response to reining in the
belligerents and guaranteeing peace to Angola's people, should not go
Mission Congress 2000 and AFJN's Annual Meeting
Mission Congress 2000 is a special call to the Church in the U.S. to reflect on its role in the mission of Christ for the new millennium. It will bring together representatives of mission institutes, diocesan and parish mission endeavors, and programs engaging laity in mission and volunteer service. The Congress will focus on contemporary ways in which the Catholic Church experiences and practices mission. This is truly a wonderful opportunity for AFJN to celebrate its mandate within the context of the global missionary call to the U.S. Church.
AFJN's Annual Meeting will take place during
the Mission Congress 2000 on the afternoon of Saturday, September 30. Please
join us in Chicago for the Congress and for our important Annual Meeting.
Africa Faith & Justice Network
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