WORLD SOCIAL FORUM
Africa to host civil society summit?
Delegates to the fourth World Social Forum (WSF) held in Mumbai, India, in January agreed to meet next in Brazil, but there is widespread expectation that the 2006 forum will be held in Africa. Although no formal request has been made, the idea is gaining currency among African and other civil society organizations and is expected to come up for discussion at the next African Social Forum (ASF), the related continental forum.
"The Americas have hosted it, Asia has hosted it," said Mr. Demba Diop, deputy secretary general of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity. "We think it's our time." The WSF is an annual meeting of civil society groups, initially held as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, a meeting of business and political leaders in the Swiss resort town of Davos. This was the first time that the gathering was held outside Brazil since its inception in the southern city of Porto Alegre, in 2001.
This year, the WSF drew more than 80,000 participants from more than 100 countries. Africa recorded its highest number of delegates to the forum since it began, with more than 400 representatives. "This was really large enough to put the continent's problems out to the world," noted the anti-debt group Afrodad. Unfortunately the African presence was not adequately prepared and organized, notes Afrodad, because the ASF secretariat was unable to organize a continental consultation ahead of the Mumbai meeting.
Delegates reiterated their frequent calls for debt cancellation, an end to structural adjustment conditions and a reversal of privatization, which they say has put social services out of the reach of the poor. Some African civil society groups believe that holding a WSF forum in Africa will bring attention to the pressing development challenges, such as HIV/AIDS, confronting the world's poorest region. But some are more cautious, questioning whether the continent has the organizational means and the mass movement base to provide the levels of participation achieved in Brazil and India.
Another year of hunger
A third successive year of drought has devastated the harvest in Southern Africa and will leave millions of people at risk of hunger over the coming year, the World Food Programme (WFP) predicts. Two of the six countries most affected, Lesotho and Swaziland, have already declared national emergencies, while estimates of the number of people in need of food aid in Zimbabwe alone exceed 7.5 million - nearly 60 per cent of that country's total population. The other countries expected to need food assistance are Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi.
The causes - drought, the late arrival of the seasonal rains and a severe shortage of seed, fertilizer and other inputs - have been exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The disease has devastated the agricultural workforce, weakened community coping mechanisms and left tens of thousands of families too poor to purchase food supplies. Although accurate harvest figures will only be available in May, Swazi government officials report that the total area planted is just 40 per cent of last year's acreage, and much of that is wilting from high temperatures and drought.
Since July 2003, WFP reports, it has provided 290,000 tonnes of food to nearly 5 million people in the area. But rations in Zimbabwe were halved late last year in the face of a $95 mn shortfall in donations. A reduced harvest in drought-stricken South Africa, the region's breadbasket, is expected to worsen the funding crunch by driving up the price of the staple food, maize, and forcing WFP to rely on costly imports.
Regional electricity grids expanding
The governments of Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania have launched a $300 mn project to connect their national electric power grids. The announcement came in Lusaka on 26 February, and construction on the first phase of the project, a 650-kilometre transmission line from the Zambian power station at Pensulo to Mbeya in Tanzania is expected to get under way in 2007. The project will allow Kenya to tap some 800 megawatts a year in excess Zambian hydro-electric power through the Tanzanian grid, strengthening regional trade and economic integration.
The project is an extension of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) programme launched in 1995 by the Southern African Development Community and subsequently integrated into the Pan-African Transmission Grid initiative of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the continent's economic development programme. SAPP has already received some $200 mn in World Bank financing to expand and rationalize the regional market in energy, and the Bank has indicated interest in the Kenya-Zambia expansion. Over the long term, NEPAD envisages connecting SAPP to its West African counterpart and then on to Egypt, creating an electric power grid covering much of sub-Saharan Africa.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy as his special envoy to help resolve the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Mr. Axworthy's political career has spanned 27 years. As a result of his leadership role in pushing through the Ottawa Treaty, a landmark global treaty banning anti-personnel land mines, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2001 he led an Oxfam humanitarian assessment mission to Pakistan to evaluate the needs of Afghan refugees, and the following year he led a Commonwealth election observer team in Sierra Leone. He also is chairman of the Advisory Board of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty.