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The January 30-21, 1998 meeting in Ouagadougou gave an encouraging impetus to the Euro-African dialogue which had taken a blow earlier in 1997 when the larger Euro-African congress planned for Niger had to be canceled due to financial problems. The third seminar of that kind after Niamey (May, 1994) and Ouagadougou (October, 1996) was intended to strengthen cooperation between Green Parties and movements in Africa and Europe, as well as to prepare a bigger conference by the end of 1998.
The approximately 30 participants and observers were made up of members of the Coordination of African Greens (until now essentially West African), the Green Belt Movement (Kenya), ZERO (Zimbabwe), the Federation of European Greens, the Green Group in the European Parliament, representatives from the French and Belgian Greens, the two Green foundations designed to administer governmental development aid funds from Sweden and Germany (Green Forum and Heinrich Böll), as well as regional and local representatives of the Bourkinabè Greens. The seminar had to do without the representatives from the Greens of Cameroon and Environmental Alert, Uganda, who unfortunately got caught in the African transport jungle.
Well-organized press conferences at the beginning and the end of the meeting assured media coverage in newspapers and on television (radio could not be verified) with visitors being taken by surprise on encountering their own image on TV some 500 kilometers away and three days after the end of the conference. The two days of discussion amply exposed European participants to the reality of the young Western African parties' struggle for survival on tiny budgets in countries where "buying" votes forms a genuine part of the political system. All parties were created between 1990 and 1992. Nevertheless, Ram Ouédraogo, president of the Burkinabè Greens, seems to have achieved some recognition for the Greens among the more informed and educated population and also outside of the capital-judging from commentaries encountered when traveling in the countryside. His public relations effort is seemingly backed by numerous Green members in Burkina Faso engaged in concrete activities such as planting trees, drilling wells or struggling for the survival of railway transport. It can justifiably be hoped that the seminar has achieved a bit of public encouragement for Greens in Burkina Faso, most welcome in view of March's presidential elections.
The role of political parties versus civil movements naturally formed an important part of the discussion.
The role of political parties versus civil movements naturally formed an important part of the discussion. Bringing in the Kenyan viewpoint, Wangari Maathai assumed, in reaction to widespread complaints about a lack of finances, that a Green Party would never be able to compete financially with the parties in power. The only space for a Green Party would thus be to present itself as completely different from the ruling political class and to prove to the people that it can be rewarding to vote for that difference. Some of the activists in the Green Belt Movement, after long years of struggle as a civil movement, decided that this moment has now come for Kenya and that it was time to get organized as a political party. The goal is to maximize influence on decision making structures, though being faced with comparable problems to those of Green Parties in West Africa, such as non-transparent electoral conditions, fraud and corruption. The discussion was reflected the differences in the societies of French- and English-speaking Africa, with the French being more organized as parties and, the English as non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The level of expectations confronting the European participants was certainly way beyond what limited Green resources could ever fulfill. In listening to African reports, some European speakers were reminded of the early days of their own movements and of how it still is in many Eastern European countries. Lack of communication structures formed the overriding and most urgent concern of the African representatives, together with a call for better integration of African elections into the calendar of Green activities and improved coordination of joint actions.
With those concerns in mind, the Euro-African conference, likely to take place November 7-10 in Nairobi, Kenya, should come up with concrete elements for a Euro-African Green agenda for the coming years. The planned agenda essentially picks up on the topics which had been decided for Niamey: democratization process (electoral transparency, human rights, culture and ethnic conflict, arms trade), environment (desertification, fisheries, toxic waste, climate change, biodiversity), sustainable development (globalization, debt, Multilateral Agreement on Investments, flight of capital) and Green networking.
The budget would come mainly from Heinrich Böll and Green Forum, who will together with the local host Green Belt Movement be the inviting parties. On the European side, Heinrich Böll will assume the bulk of the practical coordination. The invitation should go to the Green Parties and Green NGOs in Africa and Europe. A preparatory committee, composed of Adamou Garba and Ram Ouédraogo (African coordination), Stefan Cramer (financial donors), Tsigereda Walelign (European coordination), and Wangari Maathai (local host) will assume the coordination of the different working groups in order to finalize the program and take decisions on the speakers. The respective working groups, composed of an African and a European representative, will be in charge of preparing documents on the different topics.
The fruitful discussions and the cooperative atmosphere of the seminar gave a promising outlook for the Nairobi conference. Now that the practical arrangements are well in hand, there is hope that Kenya can become a strong reference point on the way to intensified Green Euro-African cooperation.
From the European Federation of Green Parties' UPDATE-NEWSLETTER. March, 1998