19 May 2006

Africa: Better Leadership Determines Our Future


Freetown — "Only Africans can lead Africa. Only Africans can shape Africa," said Joan Holmes, president of the Hunger Project, in describing the challenges facing Africa in achieving the time-bound and quantified targets for the Millennium Development Goals. The United Nations is spearheading a global campaign that uses the goals to promote the target of reducing extreme poverty by half by the year 2015.

In Africa there is a "disconnect between the political leaders and the people," Holmes said, speaking at a gala dinner the Hunger Project held October 22 at the New York Hilton Hotel. "What's missing," Holmes argued, "is leadership - leadership committed to the well-being of their people." "Forty-six percent of Africa?s people live in abject poverty," Holmes said. "There is corruption in virtually every part of the world, but in Africa it is particularly devastating. Corruption costs African economies more than $148 billion a year" Over 1,100 people filled the Grand Ballroom and listened as Holmes reviewed the eight Millennium Development Goals, including gender equality, access to education and environmental sustainability. The dinner was the culmination of three days of programs, policy forums and roundtables designed to highlight the Hunger Project's activities to achieve the goals and to talk about what is working on the ground.

There are, Holmes, said, "1.1 billion women, children and men who live on less than $1 a day." And yet, she said, "Separate the conditions in which they live from the people themselves, and you'll be inspired by their ability,their resilience, their strength and their unyielding determination, day-by-day, hour-by-hour, to create a better life for their children." One of the foremost challenges in achieving the MDGs, Holmes said, is gender inequity. She pointed to widespread agreement that the single most important initiative for reducing extreme poverty is the education of girls. Regionally, the challenge in Latin America is educating and giving rights to the indigenous people, particularly those left behind when the more productive members of their community leave to find employment, many out of the country. In Asia, women face discrimination that keeps them living in poverty and without an opportunity to receive an education. In Africa, the Hunger Project argues, the issue is leadership.

For the developed world, Holmes said, the major challenges are how to provide aid that avoids paternalism and corruption and how to develop trade policies that are fair to developing countries. She called attention to the obstacle of high subsidies for farmers in wealthy countries, and to the debt burden, including the high price poor countries spend to service their debt to developed countries.

Following Ms. Holmes speech, six regional country directors from the Hunger Project gathered on the stage to talk about their programs in a brief conversational exchange. Representing Africa were: Dr.

Naana Agyemang-Mensah, Ghana; Mr. Rowlands Kaotcha, Malawi; and Ms. Irene Wasike Muwanguzi, Uganda. Others included, Ms.Rita Sarin, India, Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, Bangladesh, and Ms. Lorena Vazquez, Mexico.

Majumdar echoed Holmes point about the need to rethink development assistance, saying, "Foreign aid left our people in despair. We are freedom fighters, and now we are fighting for liberation from hunger and abject poverty." Savirn emotionally described the discrimination against women and reinforced the argument that gender equality is essential in eliminating poverty.

The Hunger Project was founded in 1977 develop strategic interventions and promote broad examinations of global conditions for the work of ending hunger. In Africa, the Hunger Project works in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal and Uganda.

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