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Africa Institute Equips African Negotiators

Photo Credit To K. Khalema

20171018_093845On the 16th to the 18th October 2017, the Africa Institute, the Basel and Stockholm Conventions Regional center for the Anglophone states held a training workshop for all its member countries in Pretoria.   Nineteen of the twenty three countries send delegates to this training, which they expressed that was the real capacitation that the region truly needs and said it should be an annual event with strong emphasis on making it a certificated program.

Participants echoed that many of their country men and women are sent for the highly technical negotiations of Multilateral Environmental Agreements {MEAs} without much capacity; without any consultations for country positions let alone any preparations for the negotiations.  In the final analysis Africans find themselves on the receiving end of the global initiatives, which serve very little interests to Africa under the circumstances and current challenges.

The training was facilitated by four experts: Professor Jamidu Hizzam Yahaya Katima, a Full Professor of Chemical Engineering from Tanzania.  He a winner of Nobel Peace Prize of 2007 as one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists who contributed to the co-award of the Nobel Peace Prize to IPCC and Al Gore (Former USA Vice President, Dr Koebu Khalema, an experienced practitioner in MEAs implementation and capacity building, having acted as a national expert in POPs and participated in the PIC negotiations. He has executed several regional projects in the implementation of the MEAs and continue to work in the space of capacity building; Ms. Mmatsie Mooki is a Senior Lecturer of international law in the Department of Public, Constitutional & International Law of the UNISA and Mr Alex Mangwiro of the BRS secretariat.

There is a growing number of environmental conventions that many countries have to join. This is in response to an ever increasing awareness about the impacts of many anthropogenic activities that support modern day human life. In the field of chemicals, these cover a wide spectrum of activities such as medicine, food production, consumer products, energy, transport, construction, mining, manufacturing and many more sectors. Upon realization of the unintended consequences, the international community has developed more than 100 environmental conventions that seek to address these impacts.

Also in the chemicals sector, there is a growing number of conventions. Currently there is the Basel convention which deals with the control of transboundary movement of hazardous waste and other wastes across the world and their disposal, the Stockholm convention which deals with the persistent organic pollutants, the Rotterdam convention which deals with the certain hazardous chemicals that are in active trade for agricultural and industrial purposes, the Montreal Protocol which deals with the ozone depleting substances and recently the Minamata convention which deals with the management of Mercury as a global pollutant. In addition to these globally binding treaties there is also the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) which is non-binding. Africa also has a regional convention to complement the Basel Convention known as the Bamako Convention which bans the import into Africa and controls the transboundary movements and management of hazardous wastes within Africa. Other regions of the world also have some regional conventions designed to address their specific circumstances.

African countries just like many around the world are parties to these conventions. This is because as a matter of principle Africa also embodies the spirit that any of these conventions carry, which is protection of the environment and human health from the negative impacts of the substances that they manage. While Africa does not produce most of the substances that are controlled by these conventions it is a consumer in its quest for development. As the African countries continue to develop they also become increasingly depended on these chemicals just like the rest of the world.

While the tide of dependence on these chemicals is irreversible across the world developing countries such as in Africa are in the forefront of unimaginable negative impacts because of the nature of the circumstances that exist on the ground. For example, in most of the African countries, the population is largely rural, illiterate and poor. There is poor access to information, housing conditions are cramped, and the livelihoods activities tend to involve the whole family – the father, mother and the children.

There is poor access to running water and the water sources are usually communal and highly prone to pollution. The healthcare system in most of these communities is poor or sometimes not easily accessible leading to most households to rely predominantly on the traditional system which may not address the modern ailments.

On top of all these circumstances is the high disease burden that exists in most African countries. Africa is in the forefront of the HIV/AIDS pandemic with a large population of the potentially economically active population between 25 and 50 years carrying the brunt of the disease. Malaria and Tuberculosis remain prevalent, killing scores of people every year despite being treatable diseases.

It is the cocktail effect of all these factors that is responsible for the untold misery and early death that is experienced across the African continent especially to the poorest of the poor. The price of globalization and a chemically depended world is being paid disproportionately by the down trodden as they pay the ultimate price. These are the forgotten people even though they represent the majority on the continent. They are unheard and they have no voice in the international arena. This is the load that an African negotiator is carrying on his or her shoulders, the plight of millions who are surreptitiously woven into the global chemical world but are ill-prepared to handle it.

Africa is a regular participant in the international arena where negotiations take place about these issues. While this is the case, unfortunately there is a noticeable fact that its representation is compromised by the inability of its representatives to convey its predicament effectively. The challenge is that negotiations assume a dialogue and perhaps equal partners in a dialogue about a common issue and aspiring for a desirable common outcome. To achieve this goal they must have the same facts and probably the same skill to negotiate an outcome that would lead to a win-win for all concerned.

Yet the reality in Africa at the moment is that both these assumptions do not hold. There is a very high staff turnover in the governments leading to inexperienced negotiators. In some cases even when experienced negotiators are available the tendency to want to expose all staff to international experience may engender a rotational participation leading to unpredictable capacity deployment. In most cases the African negotiators do not have the same facts as their counterparts in the negotiation process.

This is because in some cases the scientific findings or data that inform the negotiations do not contain any African data so that people could relate to it. While it is understood that the discussion is not merely academic in some respects African negotiators are not able to ground it in their circumstances so that they could be empowered to push for a particular outcome of their own. Given this lack of local level grounding, any outcome may be acceptable and in fact the negotiation may be digressed to capacity building and international assistance instead of a win-win outcome on the substantive subject matter of the negotiation itself. In other words, the position here may be that as a trade-off to accepting the proposed outcome, the African countries must receive capacity building so that they could live with the proposed outcome. In other words, they must receive some form of compensation for accepting the proposed outcome.

Unfortunately this approach tends to adulterate the focus of the facts of the negotiations which should be meant to ensure that whatever outcome that is finally adopted delivers an improved outcome substantively to all the parties concerned. Getting a capacity building project for example is not likely to ensure that humans are not affected by pesticides in the rural areas or that artisanal gold miners and their families are not exposed to mercury and hence the impacts thereof. This situation arises because the extent of the problem on the ground is not fully understood and hence the bottom line which the negotiators are willing to accept is not grounded in their own realities.

The danger with this is that negotiators who only have a shallow and predictable bottom line tend to concede all of their bargaining power to their adversaries. Once the shallow bottom line has been met or promised these negotiators are now malleable with no further aspirations in the outcome. Thus the outcome is now largely determined by the other side with complicity of the other regardless of the impact that such an outcome will have on the other side. Because of the lack of skill and detailed facts about the issues on the table the African negotiators tend to find themselves in this space quite often.

Based on the above background, the Africa Institute received funds from the Swiss Government on behalf of the region, to capacitate national negotiators, in order to enhance the benefits of MEAs in the region.  The Swiss government supported African experts to help African countries in their negotiations towards the 2017 meetings of the conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions starting with the regional preparatory meeting in April in Senegal and culminating at the COPs in Geneva, Switzerland. The Swiss government have also supported strongly the Minamata pre COP 1 regional preparatory meeting and continue to support many capacity building initiatives in the region.

Post source : Africa Institute

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