Statement by the Co-Chair of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, Hon. Fitz Jackson (Jamaica) at the Opening Ceremony of the 28th session of the JPA, 1 December 2014, Strasbourg
Mr. Louis Michel, Co-President of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly; Fellow Parliamentarians; Representatives of Observer Organisations to the JPA; Distinguished invited guests
Thank you for the opportunity once again to address our Assembly. It has been 9 months since we last met in this very hall. A good number of colleagues from the EP side who were here for the 27th Session of this Assembly are no longer with us, and we have a number of new faces on both sides of the House. On behalf of the ACP Members of this Assembly and in my own name, I would like to congratulate you all once again for having been elected and re-elected to the European Parliament. May I in the same vein extend congratulations to my friend Louis Michel on his re-election as Co-President of this Assembly. I am delighted that I have another opportunity to draw on his rich knowledge and experience as we work together to advance the cause of this House.
You are all by now aware of the circumstances that have led us to meet this year once again in Strasbourg. Events of the past 6 months had conspired to make it very difficult for our meetings to be held under the format and regularity that the Cotonou Agreement prescribes. We could not convene our inter-sessional meetings in September because of commitments of the European Parliament with regard to confirmation hearings of the new College of Commissioners.
Later, during the meeting of the Bureau held on 15 October 2014, we were informed by the Speaker of the Parliament of Vanuatu that although all logistical preparations had been made, the country could not host the 28th Session of the JPA according to the guidelines recommended by the World Health Organisation for the control of the Ebola Virus Disease. Co-President Louis Michel and I endeavoured and were determined, with the support of Members from both sides of this House, to do all we could to ensure that this session of the Assembly could go on as scheduled. I am therefore grateful that the European Parliament agreed once again to host the Assembly at its premises here in Strasbourg.
It is my hope that we shall bring the same determination and steadfastness to debating the issues that are on the agenda of this session, which as usual, cover some of the current themes in international affairs and development discourse.
Each time that I attend our Assembly, I always ask myself, what brings us together? Or indeed, what unites us? Even if it is true that our frame of reference is to contribute to the eradication of poverty, our ideals must be informed by some other loftier ideal. Otherwise, we risk getting mired in details, procedures and ideological debates. I wish to submit that what brings us together is human solidarity; the fact that regardless of which part of this planet we call home, which philosophical strand feeds or sustains our ideological and intellectual beliefs, what cultural heritage informs our identity, or what God we worship, how we worship, or if at all we worship any God; regardless of such distinctions and many others, we are all human beings.
This is the reason why all development interventions and cooperation instruments need to be grounded on a deep sense of the appreciation of our common humanity – that we are individuals with intrinsic self-worth, and that we are sisters and brothers within one human family inhabiting one planet as our common home and heritage. Our otherwise laudable concerns, such as economic growth, generating jobs for the unemployed, raising the standard of living, and sustainable development, can only be authentic in as far as they are nourished by a concern for all humanity as a whole.
For instance, without notions of human solidarity informing our climate change negotiations, the very existence of the human race is at stake. The UN’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has already warned of the stark reality facing all of us should we choose to bury our heads in short-term national, or commercial interest.
I wish to submit that our fight against the Ebola epidemic should also be informed by the values of human solidarity. In the most affected countries in West Africa, people are dying from the disease, and are being buried, in the worst possible conditions that deprive them of basic human dignity. Latest figures indicate that over 5400 people have died, and over 16,000 estimated to have been infected!
Whilst the disease may appear to be localised to a few countries, it is indeed a global health threat because of the ease with which it can cross borders to affect even developed countries. And, this we have already seen! However, even if it does not cross borders, it is human beings that are threatened and dying from an indiscriminate and lethal virus. The Ebola epidemic remains a global issue that urgently needs a sustained response based on our sense of humanity and empathy.
I therefore wish to thank the brave women and men of all nationalities who have put aside fears for their own safety to be at the frontline of the fight against the disease. I also wish to salute the resilience of the Governments and ordinary people most affected by this disease. It has profoundly affected and disrupted their lives in unimaginable ways.
I am thankful to the EU governments and international organisations that have provided financial, technical and human resources support to the affected countries. The US thus far has the largest number of non-medical personnel – 3000 troops that are playing an important role in the erection of treatment and isolation units. This is indeed human solidarity when it is most needed. But I still believe that the international community can do more.
Allow me to use Cuba as an illustration of how an ACP country with very limited economic resources has so far provided the largest number of healthcare workers in the fight against Ebola: Cuba has sent the largest number of medical personnel to the affected countries – over 165, which comprises doctors, nurses, surgeons and paediatricians, and the message from the political leadership is that this number will be increased to 460 after additional personnel are trained for this assignment.
I would also like to applaud African business leaders, and Governments that have given financial resources, and whose own nationals are working on the ground in West Africa. The battle is not lost; Nigeria has already shown that we can and should prevail over this virus. Indeed, Nigeria can provide very valuable and proven lessons in how to successfully deal with the threat.
Even after Ebola has been vanquished, its social and economic impact will continue to be felt for some time. There are hundreds of children who have been orphaned by the disease; without government support, they will have no food, shelter nor the means to put themselves through school.
There will be long-lasting economic consequences as well. Overall, the World Bank estimates that the Liberian economy has declined by US$113m as a result of the crisis; Sierra Leone by US$95m; and Guinea by US$120m.
The World Bank warns that the disease, if not successfully contained, could cost the West African economy by about US$3.5 billion in 2015. Some of the economic impact has already begun to be felt in the trade, tourism and agricultural sectors. In this regard, I support the call by the United States for the International Monetary Fund to cancel debts owed by the severely affected countries, and invite other multilateral and bilateral lenders to favourably respond to this call.
The Ebola crisis has also further exposed the fragility of ACP economies, and demonstrates the dangers of differentiation – that is, restructuring assistance programmes based on GDP criteria.
Despite significant progress and positive macro-economic indicators that have seen some countries graduate to middle income status, our institutions and infrastructures are still very vulnerable and should always be taken as work in progress. The Ebola crisis has revealed the need for continued support to ACP health sectors in order to make them more resilient and capable of effectively handling ordinary health issues as well as epidemics in a sustainable manner. May I submit, that the economic investments in Africa as underscored at both the EU-Africa and US-Africa Summits this summer will be stymied for a very long time if health issues in Africa like the Ebola epidemic are not arrested with alacrity.
Human solidarity invites this Assembly, once again, to be concerned and truthfully debate political challenges confronting some of us, such as conflict resolution and terrorism. The ramifications of conflicts can be far reaching, and in some countries, wildlife conservation efforts have been threatened by conflicts.
A case in point is the Virunga National Park in the DRC where the easy availability of arms and organised poaching gangs are threatening the survival of mountain gorillas.
Even in those countries that have managed to resolve conflicts, there are still some ongoing tensions between former protagonists. This could be due to the absence or weakness of democratic structures, cultures and practices, and the consequent struggle for democratisation, good governance and reform of political systems. As we have observed in many instances, peace agreements can sometimes be undermined by systemic failures in the administration of justice and the inability of states to guarantee the security of the population.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has stated that ‘there is no handy roadmap for reconciliation, no short cut or simple prescription for healing the wounds and divisions of a society in the aftermath of sustained violence. Creating trust and understanding between former enemies is a supremely difficult challenge. It is, however, an essential one to address in the process of building a lasting peace. Examining the painful past, acknowledging it and understanding it, and above all transcending it together, is the best way to guarantee that it does not, and cannot, happen again’.
Speaking about conflict compels me to say something about recent events in Burkina Faso, where the President was forced out of office by a popular uprising. I was most impressed that although there was some loss of life and destruction of property, in particular the National Assembly building, the situation was quickly contained and did not lead to the breakdown of law and order.
I wish to pay tribute to the African Union and ECOWAS Commission for their swift response to the crisis, which greatly assisted in resolving the situation and restoring peace. But the credit must go to the ordinary people of Burkina Faso themselves who were willing to talk and listen to each other and through a consultative process, have been able to establish a transitional government.
The military authorities also conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, by not using the political vacuum caused by the departing President as a pretext for perpetuating themselves in power. The challenge now is to ensure that full constitutional order is restored, and that Presidential and legislative elections are held as soon as possible. However, the country must not rush to hold elections without resolving any lingering constitutional and political issues.
There are many lessons we can draw from what happened in Burkina Faso, but the most important issue for us as politicians is to remember that ultimate political power rests with the people, who, in between elections, may decide to exercise their power in very unorthodox ways.
Even as the world is grappling with resolving on-going or simmering conflicts, a number of ACP countries in Africa are confronted with the ugly spectre of terrorism and its various facets especially its trans-boundary nature and ongoing internationalisation. Boko Haram is just one dimension of this phenomenon.
The Nigerian poet and philosopher, Wole Soyinka, labels the modern perpetrators of religiously inspired terrorism as a ‘murdering minority who pronounce themselves a superior class of beings to all others, assume powers to decide the mode of existence of others, mode of association, to decide who shall live and who shall die… who shall dictate and who shall submit’. He further states that the ‘cloak of Religion is a tattered alibi, the real issue – as always – being Power and Submission, with the instrumentality of Terror’.
Terrorist groups like Boko Haram thrive on terror. They terrorise their own people – their fellow countrymen and Muslims – just to feed their own warped sense of righteousness. They want to monopolise the interpretation of Islam, and enforce it in blood. Faithful and peaceful adherents of Islam must do all they can to repel and subdue this hate- filled intrusion on their sacred territory.
However, what is most surprising, and that goes for other Groups such as ISIS, is how these gangs of murderers are able to equip themselves with sophisticated and expensive modern assault weapons. It seems to me that military confrontation must be accompanied by concerted efforts to stem the flow of weapons and money to these groups.
This Assembly has long recognised the dangers of the illicit flow of arms to ACP countries; and in fact we adopted a Resolution on this subject at the 12th Session of the JPA held in Barbados in 2006, where ACP Members stated that since no ACP State manufactured weapons, it was only logical to conclude that they come from developed countries particularly those in Europe.
In the framework of human solidarity, I appeal to my European colleagues to ensure that there is absolute transparency in the sale of weapons from their countries which, through third party contacts, could end up perpetuating conflicts and terrorism in Africa and other countries.
The phenomenon of terrorism in some parts of Africa will however, not obscure the positive narrative of ‘Africa Rising’. Africa is now at the forefront of global development. The continent hosts the greatest opportunities for raising living standards, reducing poverty, and building a more sustainable and inclusive world. In the past decade or so, a number of African economies have been experiencing growth rates of more than 5 percent per annum.
The key issue now is to ensure that GDP growth will promote job creation and social inclusion, and to explore how more concerted efforts can be made to make growth more inclusive, such as providing access to financial services for all segments of society and expanding value chains in the agricultural sector.
When we speak of economic growth, we should also consider the critical role that the private sector plays in facilitating economic growth and reducing poverty, inequality and income disparity in ACP States. International support notwithstanding, it is ultimately the obligation of our own Governments to promulgate appropriate policies for the support of the private sector.
On the other hand, it must be understood that the private sector is but one of the tools to be used in the eradication of poverty – the private sector cannot be expected to do everything. In fact, some of their activities might not be in line with Government policies on sustainable development.
Humanity has made so many important scientific, technological advances in the past century. This has led to tremendous advances in the production of goods and services.
It seems incongruous that in this age of plenty, a small proportion of the world’s population have access to more than half of the world’s resources to the point of wastage, while others can barely meet the bare necessities of life in a dignified manner.
Nearly a billion million people live in conditions of chronic undernourishment, with children being the most visible victims of undernutrition. Experts have pointed out that poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of the 11 million child deaths that occur each year. Further, under nutrition magnifies the effect of every disease, including measles, malaria, TB and HIV.
Adult malnutrition often goes under reported, but should also be of equal concern. It affects economic productivity and human dignity, and in the end, perpetuates poverty. The FAO has published statistics to show that the world produces enough food to feed everyone. The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase enough food. Ultimately, poverty is the principle cause of hunger.
Poverty is itself a function of social, economic and political exclusion. In short, a lack of human solidarity.
As we contemplate the urgency of human solidarity, we may be encouraged and reminded by the words of one Jamaica’s foremost literary giant the Hon. Jimmy Cliff:
…We all are one, same universal world
The only difference I can see, Is in the conscience
And the shade of the skin doesn’t matter
We laugh, we chatter
Don’t we smile, we all have both
We are all one, we are the same
We all are one universal world.
I thank you for your kind attention and wish that my observations will assist this Assembly in having a constructive and successful session.