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The Right Livelihood Award Foundation - in partnership with SEKEM (RLA Laureate 2003) - hosted a regional conference in Cairo, Egypt from 6 to 9 June. The regional conference brought Laureates from all over Africa and the Middle East to share their experiences and struggles in their different areas of work: from human rights to environmental protection, women’s health, ecologically and socially sound agriculture, as well as justice and community healing after violent conflict.
This event was the second in a series of regional meetings of Right Livelihood Laureates and was made possible thanks to the generous support of Church of Sweden.
"Business as usual is not an option" - African Laureates demand a paradigm shift in agriculture and management of natural ressources
In a joint statement, all 11 Laureates at the conference addressed the public: "In our diverse struggles toward improving access to health care, ending impunity, and achieving food security and sustainable development, we recognize an overarching crisis afflicting the region. Corporate capture of governance in Africa is becoming increasingly prevalent in the areas of agriculture and the extractive industries, namely mining, oil, and gas."
They also called upon African governments to "make investments into infrastructure, health and education, especially in rural communities."
The atmosphere remains hopeful: "Amidst the ongoing devastation caused by this iniquitous system, we would like to celebrate some of the successful alternatives that are flourishing, from Egypt to Burkina Faso." On the day of the Presidential inauguration in Egypt, they also extended their solidarity to civil society groups in Egypt.
The following petitions were initiated at the conference and signed by all 11 attending African Laureates.
Laureates urge Congolese government to stop permitting oil exploration in the Virunga Nationalpark
With this statement, the Laureates approve of the recent decision by British oil company, Soco International, to end its exploration work in the Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site and home to around a quarter of the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas.
However, Soco’s withdrawal is not a total victory; it's withdrawal is ambiguous, and the company has said it will complete its seismic survey in Lake Edward. Exploration licenses cover 80 per cent of the park and other companies may seek to develop resources in the Virunga. Laureates called on the Congolese government to cancel Soco's permit, to respect national laws and regulations outlawing oil exploration and extraction in protected areas, and to remove armed groups inside the park. They also call on Soco to unambiguously give up its permit to explore within the park boundaries and to honour its commitment to respect all areas designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
"It is time to start implementing the roadmap for Ecological Organic Agriculture in Africa"
The Laureates appeal to the heads of states and governments of the African Union to "develop and implement the roadmap for the needed transition towards Ecological Organic Agriculture as promised by the African Heads of States and Governments in the Decision on Organic Farming".
Additionally, they request that "national governments implement the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security that was declared in 2000, and redirect ten percent of national budget allocation to Ecological Organic Agriculture"
Laureates demand action to end the pollution in Ogoniland (Nigeria)
In this statement, Laureates voice their concerns about the ongoing pollution in Ogoniland and urge the Nigerian President to take action on the Ogoni UNEP report, three years after it was submitted. The 2011 report has shown e.g. that "in at least ten Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened".
The Laureates ask President Goodluck to take action on the "full implementation of the recommendations of the UNEP report" taking into consideration "effective participation of the Ogoni people in all stages relating to the restoration of their environment".
The highlight of the conference was the open programme on June 8: Local civil society groups had been invited to Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development in Cairo. During the morning, the Laureates and representatives from other organizations discussed the topics of agriculture, human rights, education and economy in smaller working groups. The afternoon was dedicated to two panel debates focusing on civil society connections, as well as a paradigm shift in sustainable agriculture. The media was invited to this event.
Quotes from the public event:
(more on Twitter with #Cairo2014)
"I believe the foundation of everything I do is education." Jacqueline Moudeina
"We cannot talk about education without talking about culture. We must get the youth to develop autonomy, for them to become responsible members of their communities." Guillaume Harushimana, Centre Jeunes Kamenge
"If I see a tree, I do not look at it as a carbon stock. I see it as a tree, as part of culture. European and American culture puts a price on everything. And that puts pressure on Africa." Nnimmo Bassey
"We are worried that international organizations are working with the government to cultivate large areas of land for agribusiness. The threat is already at our door." Nomewende Joël Ouedraogo, Fédération Naam
During internal sessions on the first two days, the Laureates described common struggles in their work and identified areas of potential cooperation within the network of Right Livelihood Award Laureates.
The last day of the conference was used for making concrete follow-up plans and signing of petitions (see above).
Quotes from the internal sessions
"Our country is known as a democracy, but anyone who comes to our country to talk about our issue, is seen as an enemy and is not allowed to return." Jumanda Gakelebone, First People of the Kalahari
"Today they are taking about terrorism in Nigeria, but terrorism has already been there. In our area [Ogoni land], people are dying daily. People are still drinking polluted water. The clean-up has not been done." Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, MOSOP
"Food is a human right. We cannot leave a human right in the hands of the private sector." Hans Herren
"Biodynamic agriculture is a solution for the world, for the issue of food security, rural development, ecological degradation of our soils." Helmy Abouleish
- 3 of the participants could not attend because of political reasons -
1. Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, SEKEM, Egypt (RLA 2003; Founder of SEKEM, focusing on organic agriculture, health care as well as educational and cultural preservation initiatives)
2. SEKEM: Helmy Abouleish, Egypt (RLA 2003; Managing Director of the SEKEM Group in Egypt)
3. Nnimmo Bassey, Nigeria (RLA 2010; human rights and environmental activist)
4. Matron Sr. Tenadam Bekele Wolde, representative of Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s Fistula Hospital, Ethiopia (RLA 2009; women's health focusing on preventing obstetic fistula)
5. First People of the Kalahari: Jumanda Gakelebone, Botswana (RLA 2005; activist for the rights of his people)
6. Centre Jeunes Kamenge: Guillaume Harushimana, Burundi (RLA 2002; youth empowerment and education)
7. Dr. Hans R. Herren, Biovision, Switzerland (RLA 2013; expert on biological pest control and sustainable agriculture)
8. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP): Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, Nigeria (RLA 1994; indigenous peoples & environment)
9. Jacqueline Moudeina, Chad (RLA 2011; lawyer and human rights activist, fighting impunity)
10. René Ngongo, Democratic Republic of Congo (RLA 2009; environmental activist, conservation of the rainforest)
11. Nomewende Joël Ouedraogo, Burkina Faso, Executive Director of Fédération Naam (Son of Bernard Lédéa Ouédraogo, RLA 1990; peasants' empowerment and rural development)
12. Raji Sourani, Palestine (RLA 2013; human rights lawyer based in the Gaza Strip) - could not attend, because the border to Gaza is currently closed
13. Physicians for Human Rights – Israel: Dr. Ruchama Marton (PHRI, RLA 2010; health care and human rights in Israel and Palestine) - could not attend, because no visas were issued for Israeli participants
14. Gush Salom, Israel: Adam Keller (Gush Salom, RLA 2001, organisation promoting peace in Israel) - could not attend for the same reasons as Dr. Ruchama Marton
15. Representatives of the board of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation: Dr. Monika Griefahn (Co-Chair), Dr. Juliane Kronen (Trustee), Agneta Johansson (Trustee)
16. Representatives of the staff of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation and SEKEM
17. Representative of the Church of Sweden (Funding organisation): Dr. Gunilla Hallonsten (Policy Director of the International Department)
1) To bring African and Middle Eastern Laureates of the RLA together on a common platform, for the first time, to share experiences and struggles with each other. To provide a platform for building fruitful working relationships and networks, allowing Laureates to potentially identify ways to strengthen each others’ campaigns/work, and lay the foundation for possible joint projects.
2) To ascertain how to strengthen the support to the RLA Laureates, in particular mechanisms for the protection of threatened Laureates.
3) Both South-South and North-South expression of solidarity with civil society organisations and activists in Egypt and the region – and to make it possible for Laureates to exchange experiences with local civil society groups in Cairo.
Press statement (English) by the Laureates on 8 June 2014.
Samaa Shehab, SEKEM
samaa.shehab (at) hu.edu.eg
Hala Bayazid, SEKEM
hala.bayazid (at) hu.edu.eg
For African media:
zahra (at) rightlivelihood.org
For international media:
birgit (at) rightlivelihood.org