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Opening Remarks from the International Conference on Forest Governance, Tenure and Enterprise: New Opportunities for Livelihoods and Wealth in Central and West Africa
Remarks presented by Kyeretwie Opoku, Coordinator, Civic Response
Africa Facilitator, Rights and Resources Initiative
International Conference on Forest Tenure, Governance and Enterprise
New Opportunities for Central & West Africa
25 – 29 may 2009, Yaoundé, Cameroon
Conference Background Presentation
Mr. Chairman, the organisers have kindly asked me to provide a brief background to and context for this extraordinary meeting of states, forest communities, international organisations and civil society that seeks to promote the recognition and realisation of community tenure, management and exploitation of forest resources in Africa. I am honoured to do so.
Mr. Chairman, as you know today, 25 May is Africa Liberation Day. This is the day on which, since 1963, African states and the world-wide Pan African Movement reaffirm their commitment to the total liberation and unification of Africa and the pursuit of justice, peace and prosperity for all. African Liberation Day is probably not an occasion normally associated with forestry or paid much attention by forests. However there is a profound relevance and 25 May is indeed an auspicious day to start such a meeting.
Mr. Chairman 60 years ago modern Africa’s founding fathers understood that “liberation” was not just a philosophical issue and that independence for millions of Africans concretely meant (as it still does) the end to elite expropriation of landed resources regardless of whether these elites were white or black. They sought the right through independence to deploy these resources collectively in pursuit of a popular African vision of development. Our founding fathers dared to hope for resource justice as the basis for continental unity, peace and prosperity. Somehow, over the last fifty years, Africa’s new political and economic elite appears to have lost the courage to believe in and work for this future. We have cynically allowed and even promoted the perpetuation of oppressive and essentially colonial resource relations. Of course, Africa has faced many constraints including, over our first 40 years, the struggle against the horrible injustices of the settler states. But the spectacular racial oppression in Southern Africa should not have blinded us to the more grinding everyday oppression that continues today to distort and retard development in every single African nation. Now that we have achieved political independence across the continent we have no excuse to ignore the resource rights agenda.
Indeed, Mr. Chairman, we have no choice but to address resource rights. Today, we know, that more than any other issue the resource question is what divides and undermines democratic development in Africa. We know that the instability, insecurity and violence that plagues our continent is fundamentally the expression of a peoples’ quest for justice distorted and turned against them by global and national power structures that for the time being, and I stress for the time being, appear resolute. Recent eruptions all over the continent suggest that we are running out of time. Simply, Mr. Chairman as Africans we have urgent unfinished business and it is this unfinished business that this meeting is about in its own small way.
Mr. Chairman: the more immediate roots of this meeting lie in another meeting hosted by the Government of the Federated Republic of Brazil that took place in mid-July 2007. The International Tropical Timber Organisation, the Global Alliance of Community Forestry, the Rights and Resources Initiative and International Union for the Conservation of Nature organised a hugely successful “International Conference on Community Forest Management and Enterprises”. There were 26 state forestry officials, community forest entrepreneurs and civil society activists from 12 African nations at this conference. We took the opportunity to meet as African forest stakeholders to discuss the state of forestry and development in Africa and the potential and challenge of CFM and CFE. I am glad to see many of these veterans are here today.
Mr. Chairman we agreed that the weight of the case study evidence presented at the Acre conference (including several studies from Africa) demonstrated that with the requisite support our communities too could manage forest resources to effectively and sustainably address environmental, economic and social development needs at community, national and regional levels. We agreed that our communities too could develop globally competitive enterprises that provide creative and dignified employment in agro-forestry, ecological services and in the extraction, processing and manufacturing of timber and non-timber products. (And to this list, Mr. Chairman we must now add the synergistic potential of carbon sequestration under a post-Kyoto climate mitigation regime.) We agreed crucially that compared to corporate industrial concession holders our communities would retain and reinvest their wealth locally in productive and social infrastructure or even consumption thereby initiating a virtuous cycle of economic and social development. We recognised also Mr. Chairman that in Tanzania, Cameroon, Mozambique, Gambia and several other countries real progress was occurring and that Africa as a whole could build on this.
We recognised, Mr. Chairman, that the African environment for community forest management and enterprise remains particularly challenging. Obviously, just as for corporate investors community entrepreneurs require appropriate tenure, legal and regulatory regimes to thrive. They require appropriate organisational, technical, marketing and financial support services. We all know this. And yet, Mr. Chairman, all over Africa national policy and legislation continues to exclude community forest management and enterprise. Across our continent public and private sectors have little orientation or capacity to support community forest management or enterprise. All over our region forest entrepreneurial pioneers (and there are many starting up and collapsing every year!) face unfounded prejudice from officials that pride themselves on their responsiveness to the needs and even whims of large-scale foreign investors. Not surprisingly therefore many of our communities lack the collective self-confidence to take on the challenge of forest management or enterprise. As a result our forest sectors are performing sub-optimally and in some cases disappearing altogether.
Mr. Chairman, the African participants at Rio Branco urged the ITTO and its partners to support Africa in accelerating the recognition and realisation of community rights in forestry. We specifically asked them to support a meeting in Africa where we could discuss community rights, community tenure, community management and community enterprise. In the closing minutes of the conference the organisers responded positively.
Mr. Chairman, we are here today because ITTO, RRI, GACF, and IUCN have kept faith with Africa. In the 2 years since the Acre meeting they have supported additional country, thematic and case studies across Central and West Africa much of which will be presented here. They have analysed global, Southern and African trends in forest tenure, management and enterprise. They have supported specific historical and legal analyses that point to strategies for making concrete progress. They have facilitated several meetings around Africa that have enabled many of us to reflect on these issues. They have tirelessly networked to bring all the stakeholders and especially our communities themselves into a constructive dialogue. Mr. Chairman, the Government of the Republic Cameroon, an established leader in this area, had the vision and commitment to champion this conference and to co-organise and host this conference. We remain grateful to Cameroon for its continued leadership and impressive hospitality. They offer us this exciting platform for learning, thinking and above all stimulating action. We salute them and assure them that we will make good use of this opportunity.
Mr. Chairman as a result of all this analytical work of we now have a fuller measure of the dangers and opportunities that confront us. We know now for example that if we adopt a business-as-usual approach we will take 260 years to catch up with the Amazon region! We know that even adopting progressive Latin American models of rights recognition we will need another 16 years to catch up! This means that we in Africa have to radically increase and surpass the reform tempo in other Southern continents. This is a challenging thought. Mr. Chairman, I know that you will soon present formally the purpose, objectives, outputs outcomes and methodology of this meeting. I know that the organisers are concerned to that we maintain realistic expectations for this meeting. However, Mr. Chairman, in Brazil, the Africans who first called for this meeting, like modern Africa’s founders had big dreams. We dared to hope the meeting we are starting today would set concrete targets for expanding tenure, management and enterprise reforms tied to the 2015 MDGs deadline (i.e. in 6 and not 16 years)! Many of us, at least in civil society, have not surrendered our Brazilian dreams. Africa does not have 260 or even 16 years. Indeed, with the wealthy countries preoccupied with the financial crisis, many African countries and communities are in danger of missing the millennium targets. For many, community tenure, management and enterprise reform is probably the most realistic route to the MDGs. And while the challenge has grown so has the African response. Certainly African civil society is considerably more organised, networked and coherent than even two years ago. In several African countries policy and legislative reform processes addressing the community rights agenda are underway or in the pipeline. Mr. Chairman this is the challenge of this meeting.
Before I take my seat Mr. Chairman I would like us to note and pay tribute to two fallen heroes of Africa’s struggle.
Mr. Chairman, Prof. H.W.O Okoth-Ogendo, a giant of scholarship and practical work on land tenure passed away a month ago. More than any other person his work contributed to the acceptance of customary land tenure as being the central basis of land law in African countries. A student at University of Dar es Salaam, then Rotham Colledg at Oxford and always based at the Faculty of Law based but in constant demand all over the world as an authority on land tenure. His final work was to lead the working party on the development of general principles and land tenure in Africa for the AU, AfDB and UNECA initiative on Land Policy. His policies had been accepted at a major meeting in Addis Ababa the day before he passé a way – a fitting tribute to an African scholar and a fine patriot.
Mr. Chairman I must also sadly report that Dr. Tajudeen Abdulraheem, General Secretary of the Pan African Movement, Director of Justice Africa, Deputy Director Africa of the UN Millennium Project, prolific writer and incurable Afro-optimist died in a car crash in Nairobi early this morning. He was a tireless campaigner for African unity and for the restoration of natural resource rights to her people – especially in his native Nigeria. Africa will sorely miss him.
Mr. Chairman, I humbly request that we observe a minutes silence in honour of these heroes.
May their souls rest in peace.
Mr. Chairman, I hope that Africa Liberation Day 2009 will be remembered as a date and platform that re-launched our final assault on the land equity question. I wish us all a fruitful conference.
Kyeretwie Opoku, Coordinator, Civic Response
Africa Facilitator, Rights and Resources Initiative
Posted By Lopaka Purdy at 12:32pm on June 01, 2009
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