Monday, October 26, 2009

European Development Days 2009: the power of networking

Last week Stockholm hosted the European Development Days, a three day event involving a number of heads of State and thousands of development professionals and students from all over Europe, indeed the world. You can read it all on the official EDD-website.

Even though Euforic – as readers of this blog will know – is scaling down its operations, we were present in Stockholm to promote one of the many exciting projects Euforic has been involved in over the last few years: R4D, an information service providing free access to information on DFID (co)financed research for development programs and over 20,000 outputs of these research efforts.

Several Euforic members presented panel discussions at the European Development Days, or the Development D-days as Rajendra Pachauri, Director General of the Energy Resources Insitute in New Delhi and one of the keynote speakers, called them. CTA invited twelve partners from the South to have stands at the Development Village and organized an important event about land acquisition (also known as “land grabbing”). At an event co-organized by AFD, Koos Richelle, head of AIDCO and others examined aid practices. AFD also organized with DFID and DIE a debate about the evolving aid architecture. Concord co-organized an event about development education, sharing ideas and experiences around involving and mobilizing citizens for development. Citizens were also central to the ECDPM-organized event about the EU-Africa Partnership. EADI together with the Development Gateway Foundation looked at the future of European Development Cooperation: Development Beyond 2015 and APRODEV, CIDSE and Concord staged an event on Copenhagen, Climate Justice and the Right to Development. SNV had a session on Accountability and Transparency and cheered us all up with a musical spectacle at the end of the second day.

Most events attracted quite some interest. A crowd of EDD-visitors lined-up outside the forum on Media and Development. In the panel, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, Raile Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, blogger and digital activist Ndesanjo Macha and others discussed the role of media in development. Dominique Darmon of SNV was lucky to get in and reported that there was an extensive discussion around the role of new media. Nowadays in Africa over 17 million phones are in use ... or at least, in use when there is electricity, as Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf noted, underlining that energy and infrastructure are critical priorities for investment in this continent. Odinga explained how he used a blog to communicate with the electorate during the recent presidential election campaign in Kenya, but someone in the audience noted that comments from readers of the blog were screened and the comments criticizing Odinga actually never made it to his blog. So new media can promote interaction and participation but they do not eliminate exclusion, whether because of lack of electricity or because of censorship.

Written communication does not reach too many Africans because of the high illiteracy rates, television is important but technically much more demanding than radio which is the number one “old” means of communication in the continent. At the same time, mobile devices are changing the way the good old radio is operating, boosting its use through for example podcast. During the session several other examples of mobile phone use were highlighted for example how they were used to warn people during recent floodings in Burkina Faso. Phones can also be used to hold the government accountable as the HIVOS/SNV project Twaweza demonstrates.

Some participants in the audience felt that new media pose a greater risk of misinformation while others laud their potential to promote democracy. A BBC reporter asked the politicians in the panel what at the end of the day would make them more uncomfortable: a bad news paper story, or a critical blog ... thus showing that the good old newspaper remains critically important.

Having to attend my R4D stand in the Development Village I saw few live presentations. But I made an exception for the “testimonies” on climate change that were given in the morning of the last day, 25 October. Michelle Duvivier Pierre-Louis, Prime Minister of Haiti and former executive of the Soros-sponsored Knowledge and Freedom Foundation told about the seven (7) hurricanes that hit her country over the last few years and asked for fairness and just reparations as part of the strategy to confront the climate change crisis, “The market mechanism is not going to save the planet”, she insisted. Moderator Sackur, known from BBC’s “Hard Talk” highlighted her systematic emphasis on fairness and justice and he asked her whether – when talking with European leaders, she felt they actually “got it”. Very honestly she replied that her gut feeling was not very good, but she also made it clear she will not give up fighting for climate justice.

President Emanual Manny Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia explained how his country has been fighting for climate justice for quite some time already. The small islands state is very much exposed to the potentially disastrous effects of the sea level increase. To anyone who doubts whether this is a serious crisis he urged to reflect “Who are you fooling? Not the oceans and disappearing species”. Mori insisted that all nations will have to bite the bullet: “We will face a different world in our lifetime”

Mary Simon has been an activist for Inuit interests for decades. “My homeland is melting” she stated, “the situation is terrifying, villages just sink in the ground because of melting permafrost”. The changes may very well exceed the traditional capacities op her people to adapt. Simon concludes that previous efforts to reduce carbon emissions have not done the job, public policies have fallen short and emissions have continued to grow. Simon stressed the interrelation between economic and environmental security and calls for massive investments in clean technology. A Climate Change Adaptation Fund of 20 billion euro needs to become operational now, not by 2022 as current proposals suggest. Besides climate change, Simon also warned for what she labeled to be misguided policies that affect the Inuit people like the upgrade in CITES of the polar bear which makes them an endangered species, and the EU ban on seal products. It is climate change that endangers the polar bear, she said, Inuit hunting practices are sustainable. She felt that such policies negatively affect the Inuits capacity to adapt and preserve their livelihoods.

Back at my R4D stand, I listened to Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission, through a video live-stream. She said that the political realities will force the EU to be more ambitious about reduction of CO2 emission and deliver climate justice. With Michelle Duvivier and the others we continue to hope (but fear her gut feeling).

For more stories on the European Development Days, check the official EDD-site and sites of Euforic member organizations.

by Rosien Herweijer

See also Euforic's newsfeeds on Euforic cooperative life on European Development Days and on Information, knowledge, and communication