Dear AFJN Members and Friends
Under the heading of its Africa Grassroots Response Initiative, AFJN is playing a major role in launching a campaign to support African farmers' rights. Current trends in the formulation of global trade regulations put small-holder farmers in Africa - and the developing world generally - at risk of losing control of their seeds, crops and other agricultural resources to international business interests. The head-long dash toward privatization in the world economy, epitomized by the attempt to foster the patenting of nearly everything, including all manner of life forms and microorganisms, could spell disaster for public sector and community control of traditional food security systems. Not to mention the consequences for local culture, family life, livelihoods and patterns of land ownership.
I urge you to join us as we get this important campaign to support African small-holder farmers underway. In addition to the information in this edition of Around Africa, we will soon be making available other materials to help you effectively present the campaign to your communities.
Happy Easter to each of you.
Larry J. Goodwin
Among the most fundamental of human rights is the right to food. This involves more than having enough to eat. It means that nature’s resources on which humans depend for sustenance -- the seeds we use to produce grains, fruits and vegetables – belong to the common heritage of the human race. As such, for countless generations humans have saved, shared and exchanged seeds, the genetic repositories of the nutrient systems that maintain our lives. We have grown, harvested, stored, traded and sold the crops that derive from the seeds, breeding new varieties in the process. Until very recently, the notion that whole varieties of seeds and plants used to produce food crops could become someone’s personal property was unthinkable. A traditional farmer could grow wheat, maize, carrots or potatoes to feed the family. She could sell her produce and freely save seed from the crop for the next planting season. He might buy, exchange or barter for seeds from a neighbor or trader, but no one would claim exclusive rights, for example, over an entire species of millet such that he had to pay them for permission to cultivate it.
The relationship between IPRs and the right to food finds some parallels in the Intellectual Property Rights debate over HIV/AIDS medicines now being played out between pharmaceutical companies and developing countries. In the developing countries' quest to obtain alternative, more affordable medicines to meet the AIDS pandemic, corporations insist that their patent rights take precedence over individual needs for medicines. In the case of agriculture, industry asserts the precedence of IPRs over communal and traditional knowledge and practice.
As the process of economic globalization unfolds, attempts by international agribusiness to extend the industrial agricultural model to the developing world loom large. The privatization of the agricultural sector goes hand in hand with the industrial model, including rights over seeds and crop varieties, and the widespread attendant use of commercial fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other chemical or synthetic inputs.
Concerns about GMOs
Since GMOs are intended primarily for large-scale commercial agriculture, they foster mono-cropping (planting a single crop over large areas), which destroys bio-diversity and invites heavy pest infestation by the very nature of the method. The chemicals necessitated by GMO crops destroy microorganisms needed for the maintenance of healthy soil. The increased irrigation requirements and agricultural run-off that accompany industrial agriculture can also adversely affect local water resources.
Land ownership and usage
By contrast, documented experience shows that systematic organic and natural farming methods can match or better the yields of industrial agriculture without the negative effects of chemical or synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides or the contamination of GMO cropping. These methods are much better adapted to the multi-crop, limited use acreage of small-holder farmers.
WTO and TRIPS
On another front, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) has developed African Model Legislation for the Protection of the Rights of Local Communities, Farmers and Breeders, and for the Regulation of Access to Biological Resources. This model legislation aims to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of Africa's biological and agricultural genetic resources, and safeguard the rights of the public sector over them. The OAU's hope is that individual African governments will use the Model Legislation as a basis for drafting national laws codifying its principles.
While it is still too early to assess the impact of the OAU model legislation, some African governments are becoming more aware of the urgency to implement measures dealing with these issues. Promoting the model legislation could help African governments establish domestic regimes to regulate biotechnology, control access to genetic resources, ensure equitable benefit sharing from their use, and protect the rights of local farmers, communities and plant breeders. Without protection, small-holder farmers could be blocked from continuing their traditional practices of breeding, saving and exchanging the seeds that they have been growing for generations. They could be pressured into abandoning traditional crop varieties, substituting genetically altered food and cash crops, which have unknown effects on health and the environment, and which could make them dependent on synthetic and chemical agricultural inputs.
AFJN and Advocacy Partners
Declaration of Support
We are developing background pieces for a popular audience to support the declaration -- a summary of African Model Legislation and explanatory materials laying out the issues at stake and why they are so urgent. These will be available soon. Meanwhile, urge your community or organization to endorse the Declaration of Support for African Small-Holder Farmers. Make this AFJN campaign a focus of your social justice efforts this year.
Please approach your religious congregation, church or community organization to add its name to
the Declaration in Support of African Small-Holder Farmers. Send endorsements to us by e-mail
The momentum toward peace in the DRC continued throughout March despite a brief upsurge in fighting in northern Equateur province. Rwanda, Uganda and other parties to the conflict carried out scheduled withdrawals of their troops from the frontlines; some Rwandan and Ugandan troops returned home.
Progress was somewhat hindered, however, by intensified fighting in Burundi and difficult negotiations over who would head an interim government there, as well as sharpened hostility between Uganda and Rwanda. On March 21in Butembo, MaiMai militia reportedly signed an accord with the FLC, a Ugandan-backed Congolese rebel group headed by Jean-Pierre Bemba, to set up a joint peacekeeping force in North Kivu.
In mid-March, UN human rights envoy Roberto Garreton arrived in the DRC to pursue an investigation of alleged massacres that took place following Laurent Kabila's seizure of power in 1997. His mission, blocked by the late Laurent Kabila, was welcomed by the new DRC president, Joseph Kabila. Garreton will also investigate the recruitment of child soldiers ('kadogos'), especially in areas controlled by Ugandan troops, and recent Hema-Lendu ethnic massacres in the Ituri region.
In March, Joseph Kabila appointed a new cabinet of advisers and visited Europe, where he urged Belgium, the UK and other governments to pressure Rwanda and Uganda to withdraw their forces completely from the DRC. (He has not pressed for disarming ethnic militias backing regrouped ex-Interahamwe forces, however.) The European Community (EC) subsequently pledged US$109 million in aid to the DRC if it made "concrete progress" and maintained the momentum of the regional peace process. Kabila Jr. also met with former Botswana president Ketumile Masire, the UN envoy tasked with facilitating the inter-Congolese dialogue. But he cancelled a meeting with political parties, which want the ban on political activities lifted.
Human rights groups welcomed Joseph Kabila's March 8 announcement that all detention centers not directly answerable to the public prosecutor's office will be closed. However, the groups remain concerned at the continued detention of a number of civil society actors and journalists.
In a March 16 report, the International Crisis Group warned that positive steps on disarmament
and disengagement in the DRC were "being undermined by the ongoing political struggle for
influence and access to resources," which might turn any inter-Congolese dialogue into a new
theatre of strife between competing interests. It urged stepped up international pressure on all
foreign belligerents to withdraw completely from the DRC. (see full ICG report at:
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On March 12 Yoweri Museveni was re-elected to a five-year term as president of Uganda with over 69% of votes cast. But his main challenger, Dr. Kizza Besigye, citing voter intimidation and vote-rigging, petitioned Uganda's Supreme Court to nullify the results and call a new election. He also called on the international community to withdraw aid to Uganda's "illegitimate government."
International election observers differed on how free and fair the election was: while some saw no voting irregularities, others reported stuffed ballot boxes, officials marking ballots for voters and other instances of vote-rigging. Besigye reported his agents were chased from many polling stations and barred from entering the Electoral Commission offices. However, the chair of the Post Referendum Support Group (PRSG), composed of Uganda's donors, declared the elections reflected a genuine choice by Ugandans.
Although it cited instances of violence and intimidation, particularly involving state agents, which made the campaign period neither free nor fair, the NGO Election Monitoring Group-Uganda ultimately endorsed the election results.
Since the election, a series of bombings and sporadic political violence have continued. On March
16, Amnesty International urged Museveni and his political opposition to reaffirm their respect for
human rights and condemn any acts of violence by their supporters. More troubling were government
efforts to link Dr. Besigye, the main opposition leader, to the bombings on seemingly tenuous
grounds. Police questioned Besigye for 3 hours over sedition and terrorism charges a day after
military intelligence, alleging links to the bombings, barred him from boarding a flight to South
On January 25 Senators Frist and 7 co-sponsors (Feingold, Brownback, Lieberman, Dewine, Santorum, Cleland and Sessions) introduced the Sudan Peace Act (S. 180) in the Senate. On March 7, the same bill was introduced in the House as H.R. 931 by Rep. Tancredo and 23 co-sponsors.
The bill is intended to facilitate famine relief efforts and a comprehensive solution to Sudan's civil war. It would support an internationally sanctioned peace process; support multilateral pressure on combatants to reach a peace agreement; and work to end the practice of slavery in the Sudan.
S. 180/H.R. 931
The bill authorizes use of State Department personnel to support ongoing negotiations on, and eventual implementation of, a peace agreement between the Sudanese Government and opposition forces. It also says that the UN should be used as a tool to facilitate peace and recovery in Sudan.
Should the Sudanese government impose a ban on Operation Lifeline Sudan, the measure directs the president to develop a contingency plan, outside of UN auspices, to provide the largest portion of U.S. and private relief to all affected areas, including the Nuba Mountains, Upper Nile, and Blue Nile. The bill also requires the Administration to report on:
At a March 22 press conference, a bipartisan group of members of Congress -- including Reps. Dick Armey (R-TX), Donald Payne (D-NJ) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) -- denounced 'blood oil' and urged stronger sanctions against the government of Sudan. Payne announced the formation of a bipartisan "Sudan Caucus," to be co-chaired by Rangel and Frank Wolf (R-VA), to press for more forceful action. The NAACP Washington bureau director also read a statement from NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume calling for strong U.S. sanctions.
In a March 15 report entitled "The scorched earth: Oil and War in Sudan," Christian Aid (UK) urged foreign oil companies to immediately suspend all operations in Sudan, and for oil giants BP and Shell to divest their shares in companies whose parent corporation is complicit in atrocities in Sudan. The report noted growing pressure for an international divestment campaign due to massive human rights violations in and around the Sudanese oilfields where foreign companies like Lundin, Talisman and others operate. In early March, BP rejected shareholder resolutions challenging its 2.2% holding in PetroChina, whose parent company is deeply involved in Sudan. In early March the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest its shares in Talisman, a Canadian-based company. In letters sent in early March to the chair of the NYSE, the acting chair of the SEC and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Rep. Wolf voiced concern over foreign oil companies' 'inadvertent' role in perpetuating human rights abuses by the Sudanese government.
Sudan's Justice Ministry has recommended that former Parliament speaker Hassan al-Turabi be
charged with "inciting hatred against the state" and sedition, both punishable by death or
life imprisonment, for his dealings with the SPLA. He may be brought before the courts soon. Reports
indicate that over 70 colleagues have been arrested as well. On March 18, eight Sudanese National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) opposition leaders went on trial, charged with espionage for allegedly
meeting with a US diplomat to plan an armed uprising. Meanwhile, Umma Party leader and former prime
minister Sadiq el-Mahdi has reportedly accepted an invitation to go to Washington to discuss
democracy and the Sudanese civil war with U.S. officials. The NDA and SPLA have said that peace
talks with the Sudan Government can only resume under certain conditions, including release of all
political prisoners, lifting the state of emergency, suspension of constitutional clauses relating
to Islamic Sharia, lifting the Public Securities Act and ending the ban on political parties.
On March 8, Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (S. 494). This bill, which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, declares it U.S. policy to back the Zimbabwean people "in their struggles to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable economic growth, and restore the rule of law."
S. 494 would provide for certain bilateral and multilateral debt relief for Zimbabwe -- including setting up a Southern Africa Finance Center to help develop commercial projects there and in southern Africa -- but only if the U.S. President can certify that:
S.494 would restrict multilateral assistance to Zimbabwe until such certification is made, although the President could waive such requirements if in the U.S. national interest.
The bill would authorize the president to provide foreign assistance to Zimbabwe only for projects supporting freedom of the press; an equitable, legal, and transparent land reform process that would pay the costs for acquiring land and resettlement of individuals; and democratic rule and good governance.
S. 494 also includes non-statuatory language urging the President to consult immediately with the governments of European Union member states, Canada, and other appropriate foreign countries on implementing travel and economic sanctions on individuals responsible for violence and the breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's economic crisis continued to worsen during March as fuel shortages began affecting emergency services. Many buses and cargo and passenger trains were cancelled due to lack of petrol. Zimbabwe ministers met March 18-19 with their South African counterparts to discuss the crisis but did not reach clear agreement on resuming S.A. fuel shipments to Zimbabwe.
On the same day that the Mugabe government fired two editors of government-owned papers for failing to toe the government line, representatives of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) met with Zimbabwean ambassador to the U.S. Simbi Mubako to convey their concern about threats to press freedom in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe government rejected a March 20 Commonwealth decision to send a fact-finding mission (composed of the foreign ministers of Australia, Barbados and Nigeria) to investigate alleged government abuses in Zimbabwe and report back to the Commonwealth summit next October. The European parliament urged that development aid channeled through the Zimbabwe government be suspended, and a probe of the assets of President Mugabe and his closest associates held in EU countries be initiated.
At a special one-day emergency congress March 21, the mostly-white Commercial Farmers Union opted
for taking a new, more conciliatory tack: to initiate talks with the government on a possible plan
to help resettle landless Zimbabweans and provide them with free tillage, fertilizer and seeds. The
CFU remains divided over whether to drop or pursue its legal challenges to the government
Although the year 2000 has ended, Jubilee 2000's call to cancel the debts of the world’s poorest countries continues to resonate across Africa. Northern campaigns, including the Jubilee USA Network, are increasingly focusing on Jubilee themes which have been central to most African debt campaigns, such as:
National African debt campaigns have played a vital role in educating both ordinary citizens and their own government officials on debt issues. They have launched many creative initiatives and made serious national advances over the past 24 months, including coordinating an "African Day of Action Against Debt" last May 25. A sampling of recent African debt campaign activities:
Increasingly, African campaigns seek to collaborate on joint strategies. In mid-December, over 200 participants - representing 22 African countries and several debt cancellation campaigns around the world - met in Dakar, Senegal to seek a clearer civil society consensus on the failure of creditor-driven international debt relief measures. They also dealt with the need to work not only to cancel illegitimate debt but also to support new African initiatives, and reparations from rich countries to Africa. The "Dakar Manifesto" urged:
Participants committed themselves to a program and its effective implementation, including
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