|Bottle-necks of Development in Africa (HABITAT)|
On the occasion of the 4th UN World Women's Conference in Beijing, China 30th August. - 15th September, 1995
By Wangari Maathai
To address myself to the themes and concerns of this 4th UN World Women's Conference, I draw upon my experiences in 2nd and 3rd UN Conferences on Women, my experience at various universities, the National Council of Women of Kenya and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially the Green Belt Movement (GBM/The Movement).
The privilege of a higher education, especially outside Africa, broadened my original horizon and encouraged me to focus on the environment, women and development in order to improve the quality of life of people in my country in particular and in the African region in general.
The Green Belt Movement is a national, indigenous and grassroots organization, whose activities are implemented mostly by women. Its mandate is environmental and the main activity is to plant trees and prioritize the felt needs of communities.
The Movement therefore, addresses the issues of woodfuel, both for the rural populations and the urban poor, the need for fencing and building materials, the rampant malnutrition and hunger, the need to protect forests, water catchment areas, open spaces in urban centres and the need to improve the low economic status of women. In the process this leads to activities which help to transfer farming techniques, knowledge and tools to women. Also to enhance leadership capacity of the participants.
The Movement informs and educates participants about the linkages between degradation of the environment and development policies. It encourages women to create jobs, prevent soil loss, slow the processes of desertification, loss of big-diversity and plant and eat indigenous food crops. The organization tries to empower women in particular and the civil society in general so that individuals can take action and break the vicious circle of poverty and under-development.
The Movement approaches development from the bottom and moves upwards to reach those who plan and execute the large-scale development models whose benefits hardly ever trickle down to the poor. The Movement has no blue print, preferring to rely on a trial and error approach which adopt what works and quickly drops what does not. It calls upon the creative energies of the ordinary local women, on their expertise, knowledge and capabilities,
It addresses both the symptoms and the causes of environmental degradation at community level, teaches the community members to recognize and differentiate between the causes and symptoms and to discern the linkages between them. It encourages participants to develop expertise in their work and not be limited by their illiteracy or low level of formal education.
The Movement also identifies and subsequently educates citizens about economic and political issues which form important linkages with environmental concerns and which are likely to have a negative impact on the environment. This is done through seminars, workshops and exchange visits. It also addresses the role of the civil society in protecting the environment, developing a democratic culture, pursuing participatory development, promoting accountable and responsible governance, which puts its people first, protecting human rights and encouraging respect for the rule of law.
In the course of this involvement the Movement has identified major bottle necks-which frustrate development efforts in Africa and which are important to this conference. Although we have shared these thoughts with the United Nations World Hearings on Development in New York in June, 1994, and other important fore, we see the need to repeat them at this conference. We feel that unless these bottlenecks, and others, are dealt with it may be difficult to help Africa because these bottle-necks will continue to keep the majority of the African people in the background of their development and political agenda irrespective of the amount of aid, grants and experts sent to Africa to alleviate poverty and under development.
Perhaps none of the bottle-necks mentioned here are new. The list is also not exhaustive. But it is recommended that these bottle-necks be considered if there be genuine desire to help Africa and her peoples. There is no list of remedies attached to the bottle-necks. The first step is to accept that they are the bottle-necks and identify their source. The last stage is to seek the solutions to them, obviously by removing them and replacing them with cures. The remedies will partly be in form of creative initiatives and actions triggered by the clear understanding of the bottle-necks. These cures would remove these bottle-necks and create an enabling environment to allow the African people utilize their creative energies and national resources.
The following then are some of the bottle-necks which have been identified to - date: