Thursday, 5 April 2012

Respect for Democracy

I have been following some email conversations these last couple of days about the success of the Respect Party in West Bradford By-Elections. Much hand wringing (understandably) within the North West Green Party about how and why Respect manage to win, and what the implications are for future elections and whether we Greens will be in competition with Respect. There is no doubt a properly founded worry that the Green agenda is seen still seen as a middle class concern.

One of the GG (Global Greens not George Galloway here) Congress sessions was on Democracy and included a very articulate input on how to define it, how to score it (not a case of you have it or you don't) and how to improve it. The speaker from Uganda (no list of names here) said that according to the Economist Intelligence Unit *only 30 of the worlds 167 countries have full democracy. In Africa, countries doing best include South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana but even some of the worst like Rwanda have fledgling Green parties, represented at the Congress.

What was striking was the stories almost everywhere of how the newer Green Parties across all (non- European) continents are growing out of environmental movements with strong civil support; no worries there about being seen as having middle class preoccupations that only the rich can afford. Issues of environmental protection, land- grabbing by the multinationals, deforestation, illegal mining, access to water and water conservation are real, visible threats to survival and peace, and are hitting poorest the hardest. It is recognised (and increasingly and openly by other political parties) that any hope for some level of prosperity for the masses has to address the green agenda.

Green Parties- across the world- have a coherent programme addressing the key social, environmental, and economic issues, AND which properly concerns itself with participatory democracy.  I'm convinced now more than ever before that its only by addressing these 4 issues at the same time that we will get democracy working for the true and lasting benefit of the masses. Other small parties may manage to swing an election result or more on the basis of a 'charismatic' leader and some creative political messaging, but that's not the Green style.  But at the same time a healthy democracy needs more than one small party with a similar progressive agenda. We have to welcome it !

* The Economist Intelligence Unit 2011 report. Democracy can be rated according to 4 levels (or ratings) from Full democracy, Flawed, Hybrid to Authoritarian regimes. These are based on assessments of indicators such as electoral processes, government functioning, political participation, political culture and civil liberties)  

Merci Senegal, pour le bien venue

Thanks to co delegate Ricky for some lap top time to write up some of the goings on before we leave later today.

Before conference started I broke all the rules in the tourist guide book and spent best part of my day's pre conference holiday with a local man Abdu after asking directions to the beach. He introduced me to his brother who, for a living carves and sells prayer beads and jewellery from black and white ebony in a tiny 'workshop' hut next to the beach. Later I met many other members of Abdu's  family at a meal in the evening, including his 6 month old twin niece and nephew and their father ( a refrigeration technician) who live as part of the very extended family (of around 20) in the 5 or 6 rooms around the yard which is the hub of their home. Seven members of the family and I ate traditionally cooked spiced rice, vegetables and fish from a huge bowl together. Undoubtedly the best meal of the whole 10 days I have been here. They asked me what family life was like in the UK and it was interesting to do immediate comparison. Only four of us eat together (if we are lucky) in our house and we rarely if ever invite complete strangers to join us even if (and probably especially) if they are from another continent and don't understand our language.We spent a long time and some fun and drama exploring the Wolof word 'Teranga' which loosely means hospitality- for which the Senegalese are renowned.  Thanks Lonely Planet guide book for the advice  – but pleased I took a risk and experience the Teranga first hand.  

Friday, 30 March 2012

Global Greens Congress start

Wow- what a welcome the Global Greens got yesterday in Dakar. The formal welcome included speeches by the chair of FEDES ( the Senegal Greens), a short speech by each of the four Federations of Green Parties , including the African Federation, and the Chair of the Global Greens from Rwanda. They all re-iterated what an amazing feat it is  to host the Global Greens in Africa; and for it to take place immediately following the peaceful presidential run-off which saw a smooth transfer of office of the president. What is taken for granted in Europe, (despite our complaints on some of the finer points), democratic elections here are a rarity to be greatly celebrated. Women on the platform from Nigeria and Rwanda were proud that it is only the Greens in Africa that are prepared to truly welcome women as equal partners. I am so proud to be part of this Global Green family.

The evening ended with an outdoor 3 course buffet for the 500  delegates and a cabaret Senegalese style. The dancing, acrobatics and rhythms of the ' Arts in Africa' group was so upbeat that a hundred or more delegates spontaneously contributed their own freestyle dancing to the 12 or so artists on the floor in a riot of music, colour, and hilarity. You wouldn't get that at a British conference! There are around ninety countries represented here – and despite the simultaneous translation in to French, English, Spanish all day – it was clear proof that dance is the universal language.

The internet connections are driving me mad, as is loss of use of personal lap-top. Small worries in the scheme of things.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Getting more than you fish for

The hotel  I am staying at is in Yoff,  north of Dakar, right on a cove of sandy beach and this morning there were enormous waves bounding the hotel wall;  enormous at least compared to the best that Morecambe Bay can offer. I walked to the Yoff fishing beach with a group of women who happened to be passing the hotel as I left. They were all in dresses of the same bright yellow, pink and blue fabric, all of slightly different styles, and really well cut. I assumed it was a post-election party as everyone seems to be very happy here today about the results: the election of Macky to replace the out-going president Wade. Later I discovered, talking to beach traders, stall vendors, almost everyone I met, that the Senegalese are not only highly aware of, but extremely proud of their record of peaceful democracy.  Not surprising given some of the alternative forms of ‘democracy’ in West Africa. As a cafe owner  said  “Senegal - no oil - less corruption.”

Anyway, the women I learned, were all from the same family and are here for a  4 day family celebration at an aunt’s house.  I am kicking myself as my phone (camera) wasn’t charged. So for the walk to the beach imagine a dusty sandy road turning into small alleyways between head-height sandy breezeblock walls, sometimes so narrow to have to squeeze past people coming in the opposite direction. Through open ‘doors’ in the wall short terraces of stone rooms on 2 or 3 sides create large yards . Each time I managed a glimpse, the yards had women washing clothes or cooking outdoors and children playing there.
 As this opened on to the beach there were a hundred or so long narrow wooden boats  ‘pirogues’ on the shore . I sat with a woman and her nephew on some netting inside one, after she had thrown out some dead fish heads and spoke to her via the nephew translating  my limited French into wolof (pronounced olof). Gradually more and more boys came to join us, one of them delighting in fiddling with the velcro on my shoes. (I think) I learned:-no fishing today due to the high waves; the children are on holiday from school for the (easter?) holidays , even though the population is predominantly muslim; where are all the girls? - at home.

A wonderful glimpse of fishing community life in Senegal. But one of the shocks of the scene was the amount of plastic rubbish strewn all over the beach, in the sand and being washed up with every wave. One of the proposed resolutions at the Global Greens conference is on the sustainable management of the worlds’ oceansand fisheriesAt the recent GPEW national conference in Liverpool  we  updated and passed a full and far reaching  national Marine and Coastal policy  which was highly welcomed and commended by Greenpeace and other Marine conservation campaigners at conference.   Just one of the issues highlighted in the Global proposal concerns “Our taste for plastics has filled the oceans with plastic debris, most of it smaller than five millimetres, now dispersed in all the worlds' oceans and far deep into the water column, entering and poisoning the marine food webs.”
We forget what is out of sight, but today the plastic debris was very much in view and begin washed ashore, completely ruining a local community’s own environment.
Very politely, after translating for a good half hour, the 14 year old asked me to buy a football. Round the corner the shopping street was filled with kiosks interspersed by women working in small groups together- washing clothes , preparing vegetables; cooking . Ball duly handed over,  the dozen or so boys ran back to the beach immediately starting a game and oblivious of the rubbish under their feet.   

Monday, 26 March 2012

An eventful journey

Arrived at my hotel in Dakar well past midnight after a fairly eventful trip. Due to no direct flights from anywhere in the UK I travelled via Lisbon via a supposed short wait. However take off was delayed by one hell of a hullaballoo at the back of the plane. We were matter of factly told that the ‘noise was due to a passenger being deported from Portugal but.. there are 7 security officers on board.’  A further 4 police officers came on and left after half an hour...  That deportation could be for all sorts of reason but knowing it was likely to be a desperate refugee, it was a pretty unnerving first-hand experience of someone fighting not to go back to Africa.  We are inevitably going to see more mass migration due to both economic and environmental reasons. Behind the numbers are the personal tragedies  - whether or not people are successful in getting visas. About time that governments (all round the world) stopped seeing the refugees as the problem – and started addressing the causes.

With Lancaster's temperature higher than Portugal as I left– and actually not that far off Dakar, as stark reminder back home that something's not quite right about the global weather system. It might be good for the British spirit  but its hard not to feel the sign of less welcome changes yet to come... or for countries elsewhere.  I have with me ( for a bit of light reading)  the latest report from the North West Public Health Observatory The Impact of Climate Change upon Health and Health Inequalities in the North West of England . Among other things it highlights that by the 2080s in North West England temperatures are expected to increase by 2.6 degrees in winter and 3.7 in summer. Feels like that could happen far sooner just now. 

The report goes on to predict the effect of the temperature rises on health, or rather illness, demand on the NHS. Needless to say there is going to be massive increase (eg  15% increases by 2020 in annual hospital admissions from respiratory diseases alone). Just as destruction of the NHS comes into full force?  “This week as we turned the clocks forward by an hour, Cameron turned the NHS back by 60 years” 
Back to Dakar – Abdoullah Wade, Senegal's president  for the last 10 years  was peacefully  ousted  yesterday as I was arriving (events not related), even though he was hoping to subvert his own legislation of limiting the president to 2 terms of office. Despite foreign  office warnings of riots on the streets it was completely calm and almost deserted on the way from the airport to the hotel. The manager was asleep on the reception sofa, the TV was showing crowds cheering from earlier in the day and the the  interviwed ex –president was, if my French serves me well, blaming the French and the US Governments. ‘Tant pis’ said the manager

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Countdown to Dakar

A really good reason to start a blog has to be a visit to Dakar, Senegal. And not just any old transcontinental trip - but to represent the Green Party of England and Wales at the Global Greens Congress next week.   This is only the third event of its kind, and I have just looked at the video clip of the first that was held in Canberra in 2001, where the Global Greens Charter was agreed. Its  fantastic to be reminded that we are part of a huge international family spread all across this little planet all trying to work to the same ends. There will be Greens from Africa, Asia, and the Americas all in one place. That’s exciting enough but add all those Green elected representatives and political campaigners from widely differing cultures and historical perspectives committed to sharing  the same fundamental values – justice, equality , commitment to diversity and non- violence - while in the pursuit of stopping the economic madness and environmental destruction that has become the norm of government policies almost everywhere. See the Global Greens Charter and more here.

This Congress will focus on action plans on democracy in Africa and beyond, biodiversity, climate change and energy, green economics and the Green New Deal, as well as discussions on the future role, structure and resourcing of the Global Greens. I hope to meet some of our colleagues from Egypt, Tunisia and other Arab countries if they manage to get there.

Three days to go before I leave, but I'll have a couple of days there to acclimatise and network before Congress starts. So much to do. Given the agenda for the meeting it seems trivial in the extreme spend time on what clothes to take, but that won't stop me. More importantly I've got to get our latest local party newsletters 'GreenView' ready for distrubtion to tell the voters what the 8 elected Greens are doing locally to improve our lot- like saving our local Freeman's wood from development, to persuading the Council to invest in renewable energy on municipal buildings. Thinking globally, acting locally - to use a rather worn but still highly pertinent phrase.

But I'm off to network globally. And yes, I am flying there, but before you say  it all the jokes have been expressed already, and I am considering some sort of meaningful carbon offsetting - honestly.