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Fourth General Assembly of Social Watch Underway in Accra

 The 4th General Assembly of Social Watch got underway in Ghana’s capital, Accra, on Tuesday. Over 100 delegates from about 60 countries are attending the three-day meeting.

The meeting, the first to be held in Africa since Social Watch was formed in 1995, is on the theme ‘People First: Social Watch’s response to the global crisis’. The Assembly will examine the implications of the systemic crisis on human, gender and social rights and offer alternative solutions to these global challenges.

The Assembly, which meets every three years, will set medium- and long-term priorities and identify potential alliances in advocacy strategy. Participants will also elect members of the Coordinating Committee to coordinate and offer political leadership between assemblies.

 Ghana’s vice president John Mahama, who was the special guest at the opening ceremony, said relentless demands by citizen groups and social movements, such as Social Watch, for accountability from both governments and international institutions have had significant impact on national and global policy decision-making processes and implementation of adopted policies.

The Ghana government, vice president Mahama said, ‘will not shirk its social contract with the people by sacrificing their welfare on the altar of fiscal and monetary expediency’. As such, government has its eyes ‘wide open’ in the country’s dealings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other multilateral institutions.

He noted that the Ghana government has initiated a stabilization programme against the financial and economic downturn with support from the IMF and the World Bank, adding government is cautiously engaged with these multilateral institutions.

Ghana and Botswana, two of Africa’s best performing economies in the last decade are among a long list of African countries which have sprinted to the Bretton Woods institutions and other IFIs for loans and other forms of assistance to contain the rippling effects of the global financial and economic crisis.

In July, the Ghana government secured US$1.1 billion from the IMF after a two-year break from receiving financial help from the leading IFI. Earlier in June, Botswana, for decades Africa’s best governed country, secured US$1.5-billion in financial assistance from the African Development Bank (AfDB) as the country’s diamond industry came apart as a result of price collapse and dwindling demand for the precious gem.

The US$1.5-billion to Botswana is the largest assistance the AfDB has ever awarded to a single country. It is also the first time Botswana has gone to any IFI for help in the past  seventeen years.

The Vice President of Ghana also noted that in spite of the rising optimism in some parts of the world that an upturn in the global economy is in sight, the same cannot be said of Ghana or Africa as a whole. He said, ‘for many millions around the world, it will take many years to recover from the negative impacts of the multiple crisis – starting with the food crisis, fuel crisis and financial crisis. These optimistic pronouncements, therefore, do not reflect the reality as they affect millions of Africans on the ground’.

Dr. Rose Mensah-Kutin convenor of Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), said the General Assembly is a ‘space for reinforcing the sense of belonging and strengthening the network’s identity and unity’. NETRIGHT is convenor of Social Watch Ghana.

She said the Accra General Assembly will also analyze and deepen members understanding of the ‘social and environmental impacts on women and men, of the global economic and financial crisis, what our governments are doing about it and what we ourselves are doing about it as civil society coalitions’.

Dr. Yao Graham, coordinator of Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Af) in a keynote speech said the financial crisis and the damage it has wreaked on the global economy raises a number of issues. Key among these are: the role of the state in development, the importance of the regionalism and global economic balance. TWN-Afr is co-hosting the 4th General Assembly with NETRIGHT.

Historically, Dr. Graham observed, when the developed countries of the North were in surplus, the IFIs did not manage or regulate them. Therefore, there was a fairly high probability that surpluses in emerging economies especially in the Far East could go unregulated.

He added that just as in the past, it was conceivable that the IMF and World Bank could well become very useful tools to the new and emerging economic and political powers such as China and India. This clearly has implications for the global economy especially economies of the developing world.

On the role of the state in development, Dr Graham said the crisis draws to the fore the state’s interventionist role is not only at the local arena but also at the global level, pointing out that Brazil is the fourth largest iron ore producer in the world and the country owns and runs the profit-making Companhia Vale Do Rio Doce (CVRD).

Dr. Graham also noted that the role of the state is not just simply as an intervener but also as an actor, pointing out that the regional is going to be extremely important even as the major powers move to create new alliances.

The General Assembly is the highest directive body of Social Watch. The first three general assembly meetings were held in Rome, Italy (2000), Beirut, Lebanon (2003) and Sofia, Bulgaria (2006).

Created in 1995, Social Watch is a network of NGOs with members from over 60 countries across the world, ‘as a meeting place for non-governmental organisations concerned with social, development and gender discriminations,’ responding to the need to promote the political will required for making the United Nations promises come true.

Since its creation fourteen years ago, the network which continues to expand, both quantitatively and qualitatively, has published fourteen yearly ‘Social Watch’ reports on progress and setbacks in the struggle against poverty and for gender equality. These reports have been particularly useful as tools for advocacy on all fronts: local, national, regional and international levels.

The 2009 Social Watch report titled ‘Making finances work: People First’ and prepared by over 60 CSOs from across the world was launched on September 25, 2009 at the United Nations Plaza in New York City. The report was also launched in many other countries including Ghana which took place on October 7, 2009.

 The 2009 report succinctly shows that the best way out of the current economic and ecological crisis is to devote more resources to strengthen people’s well-being.


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