“We open doors to de­ci­sion-mak­ers”

The Africa Report - - FRONTLI NE - Win­nie Byany­ima Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ox­fam In­ter­na­tional

TAR: Much of Ox­fam’s work is fo­cused on the African con­ti­nent. What are the most com­pelling rea­sons for Africans to sup­port Ox­fam’s work? WIN­NIE BYANY­IMA: I be­lieve the pro­found his­tor­i­cal rea­sons that have caused African coun­tries to have lagged so far be­hind oth­ers in de­vel­op­ing their economies – trap­ping so many African peo­ple in ex­treme poverty for gen­er­a­tions – are break­ing. We now have the un­der­stand­ing and means to break them in far more pro­found and sus­tain­able ways, if we choose to: new tech­nolo­gies, par­tic­u­larly in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and trade, rule of law, grow­ing democ­ra­cies, bet­ter util­ity and gov­er­nance of nat­u­ral re­sources, more de­fin­i­tive African po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in the old and newer cor­ri­dors of power. Civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions play an im­por­tant part in all th­ese kinds of strug­gles.

Do you see a crack­down on the work of NGOS and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions in African coun­tries to­day? Yes, civil so­ci­ety crack­downs are hap­pen­ing. They’re hap­pen­ing against NGOS. They’re hap­pen­ing against me­dia. Civi­cus re­cently found that among all UN coun­tries just 3% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion lives in ar­eas where civic space is truly open, where one can peace­ably op­pose the state. Over 40% are in places where the right to free ex­pres­sion is re­pressed or op­pressed. We live in a very big world where civic free­doms are the ex­cep­tion, not the rule. That to me is ob­jec­tively ex­tra­or­di­nary, as much as it is wor­ry­ing. There is much talk in the NGO com­mu­nity about rais­ing the role of lo­cal civil so­ci­ety part­ners. What is your plan to do this? Last year Ox­fam worked with 3,249 part­ners. This num­ber grows by the year. Last year, 41% of the part­ners we worked with were na­tional NGOS, for in­stance, and 10% were women’s or­gan­i­sa­tions. We also part­nered up with co-op­er­a­tives, coali­tions, re­search groups, lo­cal gov­ern­ment agen­cies, the pri­vate sec­tor. Some were long-term devel­op­ment re­la­tion­ships, some were shorter-term strate­gic al­liances, some were geared to ad­vo­cacy or cam­paign­ing – glob­ally, Ox­fam has a huge, colour­ful and di­verse part­ner­ship pro­file.

Ox­fam of­ten seems to speak for par­tic­u­lar groups – the poor, ru­ral women, and so on – but what man­date does Ox­fam have to play this role? I do not ‘speak for’ poor peo­ple, or ru­ral women, or refugees, or vic­tims of crises. But I do rep­re­sent an or­gan­i­sa­tion whose work opens doors to de­ci­sion­mak­ers that af­fected peo­ple of­ten can­not reach. I’m very con­scious that is a priv­i­leged po­si­tion that is not avail­able to all the peo­ple who Ox­fam works with and sup­ports. So if I can help them to raise their voices and con­cerns, even in their ab­sence, I will. But I’m happy to say that ev­ery time Ox­fam is at a ma­jor sum­mit – for ex­am­ple at the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in New York or at the [IMF and World Bank] An­nual Meet­ings in DC – we try to en­sure that lo­cal part­ners from Africa and around the world are part of our del­e­ga­tion. In­ter­view by M.A.

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