Several Africans have come together to form the African People's Caucus to develop strategies for a continental way forward for the 5th Ministerial meeting in CANCUN, MEXICO.
They have traveled thousands of kilometers, some, even got turned away but they are determined to ensure that their voices will be heard in both the official process, and on the streets in Cancun.
And the Africans have indeed arrived. Under the banner of the Africa Trade Network more than 50 people representing various popular organizations some even part of government delegations from countries afar as Senegal, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana met to discuss various strategies that could assist official delegates at the WTO Ministerial meeting.
The aim of the gathering was also to get a sense of what accredited and non- accredited activists are facing in the next coming days.
The 5th Ministerial meeting officially starts today amid tight security. More than 5000 police officers have been deployed in and around the hotel zone where all the major events are taking place.
If you not accredited attempting to go into official events could prove difficult or even impossible. However those that are not accredited have access to all the events and demonstrations that activists are planning.
Who is here?
It is estimated that some 50 000 delegates are in Cancun. There are more than 3000 officially accredited people from non-governmental organisations. Africans only constitute a mere 5% of delegates. These Africans are part of the global community of researchers who have been examining the character and effects of the WTO's trade and trade-related agreements since its formation in 1995.
There are 1200 accredited media; only 50 of them are from Africa. It was also reported that the European Commission alone has about 600 delegates whereas the African Union has a mere 10 delegates. However Kenya has about 45, Uganda 37 and Senegal 15.
Participants to the ATN's African Peoples Caucus also discussed how they could monitor and challenge their governments in ensuring that they do not cave into pressures coming from the Majors. The main target is to to ensure that negotiation on the Singapore issues (investment, competition, government procurement, trade facilitation) are not launched. The "insiders" (those who are accredited) commented that it seems the official African delegates are not very organized and fragmented.
But despite this Africa is central to the struggles between the powerful Quad countries (the US, Canada, the EU and Japan) and the rest of the developing world.
Despite their lack of financial, human and other resources a group of courageous African countries, led by Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe, have developed a leading position in articulating the demands of the majority developing countries in the WTO representing a counter weight with regards to the Agreement on Agriculture. They have provided the core around which others are gathering. This position within the WTO process creates an entirely new situation threatening a spanner in the works.
Much has been reported on the victory achieved by Africa and other supportive countries such as India and Brazil, in compelling the US to modify its intractable opposition on the right of countries facing public health problems to side step some of the corporate 'patent' constraints on their access to essential medicines.
What is however important is whether Africans will be able to stick together and ensure that they are able to negotiate these issues?
The emergence of the GROUP of 21 was also another issue that delegates were informed about. This group of developing countries such as India, Brazil and China are emerging as key allies and as counterweight to the position produced by the EU and the US on agriculture and represents a force to be reconed with because of their trade weight as well as significance of Agriculture as a deal maker or breaker in this ministerial.
It was also reported that Five committees have been set up that will discuss the key issues. The 5 thematic areas are on the non-agricultural market access (NAMA); Agriculture; Development issues including special and differential treatment (SDT); Singapore issues (investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation) and Miscellaneous issues.
What was clear from the meeting was that African activists must be able to monitor and challenge their government delegations. They must be prepared to assist those few governments that are willing to engage activists in formulating positions that will benefit not only Africa but the entire developing world. However there is a strong concern as to what the South African government's position will be. In the next few days Africans will organize debates and other discussions around a series of relevant topics that are at the centre of the talks.
So even if Cancun is thousands of kilometers away, Africa's voice is being heard in and outside the corridors of power here.
However it is also important to realize that that CANCUN is not the beginning or end of the crucial debates but will give the popular movement the means to continue the good fight.
BRIEF BACKGROUND: CANCUN
The city of CANCUN is located in the QUINTANA ROO state. It is the fastest growing city in the country. The city is divided in 2 zones, the HOTEL ZONE or as locals say ZONA HOTELARA and the City or referred to as" a la Ciudad. Cancun is one of the areas with the greatest gaps in social and economic status. The peninsular was there deliberately chosen as the site for the 5th MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE OF THE WTO as it is largely inaccessible to the majority of people, physically and financially.
Source: African People's Caucus in Cancun (10/9/03)