On 22nd October the Guinness Book of World Records announced the verified figures for the total number of people who had participated in this year’s STAND UP AGAINST POVERTY AND TAKE ACTION campaign; in support of the MDGs jointly organized by the UN Millennium Campaign and the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP). A staggering 117 million people in 137 countries and about 8000 different kinds of activities helped beat the record of almost 44 million set last year (2007) and that of the first record attempt of 23 million (2006).
Of this global figure almost 25 million were from Sub-Saharan Africa. The biggest number came from Nigeria (9 million, which is more than 4 times the number who participated last year) but by proportion, Rwanda, with a population of 8 million and having almost 3.5 million participating in it (almost 50 % of the population) has taken over leadership from Malawi who had led Africa figures both in absolute numbers and proportion to population since 2006. However, in many African countries including Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, DRC and Kenya, the 1-2 million mark was exceeded.
Like every Pan-Africanist, I reject the artificial division of Africa into Saharan and Sub-Saharan enclaves. We are not the only continent that has climatic differentiation. If others are not denied their wholeness as a result of topography why is Africa so divided? The underlining political and economic interests behind the division is racialist, to differentiate largely Arab or Arabised Africa from Black Africa. It gets to a more ridiculous level when Mauritania and Sudan are lumped with Arab North Africa. For the Guinness World Records, the whole of North Africa plus Sudan are regarded as part of the Arab region! Ask yourself why Turkey, physically neighbouring the EU and even a candidate member of the union, is not included as part of Europe. Does the fact that you have many Asians in Mombasa, or in Parklands in Nairobi, make them part of India? Should the Durban population in South Africa be regarded as part of India? Or the Europeans of Cape Town included in Europe’s figures? Maybe the largely black population of Washington DC or Brixton in London should be included in Africa’s figures? Definitions, names of places and in our case even physical geography – rivers, lakes, even our surrounding oceans – are defined by others because they had power over us and still exercise the power to do so because we let them. .
Africa is the whole continent from Cape Town to Cairo and all the islands whether on the Atlantic coast or that other inappropriately named Indian Ocean and the archipelagos. Any country regardless of its racial, ethnic or other social composition that is a member of the AU is part of Africa as far as I am concerned. Even when the state withdraws as Morocco did with the OAU and never acceded to the AU it does not change the geography! Just like Mauritania withdrawing from the ECOWAS has not transported it to the Middle East!
If you take this view then the STAND UP figure for Africa this year is more than 40 million people because Egypt alone had 15 million people participating.
The global figures, despite most coming from Asia and Africa, show that citizens of the world are not convinced that the current global financial crisis should be used as an excuse for inaction on the interests of the poor.
But whatever figure you take, the STAND UP AGAINST POVERTY campaign was hugely successful this year. It surpasses last year’s figure of 10 million (SSA) or 12 million (including Egypt). The absolute figures, in fact, will be even more than 50 million across Africa because there were so many events that were not properly registered given the internet based registration process and there were many events for which figures came in outside the reporting and verification time agreed with Guinness. While the Guinness is important for certification, the most important issue for me is that the movement against poverty amidst plenty is growing. Peoples of the world including Africans are growing impatient and no longer willing to tolerate mass poverty in a world of plenty and are refusing to allow global leaders whether in the north or the south, in enriched or impoverished countries, to continue to offer excuses for not meeting the MDGs and doing more.
The global figures, despite most coming from Asia and Africa, show that citizens of the world are not convinced that the current global financial crisis should be used as an excuse for inaction on the interests of the poor. Almost one Million people, double the number for last year stood up across Europe, belying the subterfuge of their leaders saying that the current crisis means that they have to look more inwards and further renege on their Goal 8 commitments. The global financial crisis and rising food and fuel prices, make MDGs more necessary than before because the impoverished peoples and classes across the world bear a disproportionate share of the consequences. In the boom years they did not benefit much, but will suffer the doom more than those greedy corporate fat cats, banking sharks and speculators whose excesses have created the current crisis.
The scope of the events marking the Stand Up this year is also a clearer demonstration that the anti-poverty movement is forging new and wider constituencies: schools, mosques, churches, doctors, lawyers, workers, the unemployed or unemployable, musicians like Femi Kuti in Nigeria, Pastor G in Harare, DNA in Nairobi, the homeless, the youth, students, women, MPs, UN officials, priests, prisoners, police, traffic wardens, teachers, nurses, ministers and even Presidents. In Africa both President Kagame of Rwanda and President Koroma of Sierra Leone led millions of their citizens in Standing Up Against Poverty and recommitting themselves to meet the MDGs.
What is even more interesting for me is the participation of individuals and groups who are the marginalized among the marginalized, such as differently abled persons and disability groups including the blind. In Kenya, it was highly emotional but uplifting to see children with hearing and speech challenges using sign language to read the STAND UP pledge.
Yet there are still cynics, many of them arm chair resolutionaries (no longer revolutionaries), who keep asking ‘so what?’ This year focuses more on action that people can take not just for the day but throughout the year. Millions of trees were planted and will be nurtured as concrete contribution to goal number 7. Youths are forming community development groups to clean up their neighbourhood while at the same time challenging their local councils to deliver better and more effective services. From country to country more action is expected to challenge leaders and citizens, at all levels to deliver on the MDGs. 117 million people is about 2% of the population of the world, and 50 million Africans means 1 out of every 15 Africans. Can all of these people be wrong?
If you did not join that day it is not too late for you to join in taking action at whatever level, wherever you may be, to remind leaders to keep the promises made to the poor, the hungry, the sick, our children and mothers dying giving life. MDGs are nothing more than just the minimum that any decent society and government should offer to its citizens. Ask yourself whether you are doing the decent thing by yourself, your family, and your locality before pointing fingers at others. Only citizens’ action and pressure can make governments deliver. Join the growing millions and be part of the solution. It is defeatist to think that there is nothing you can do or that you are too small to make a difference. Think of what havoc a small anopheles mosquito can cause (malaria) and decide to be part of the Mosquitoes for Change.
“Forward ever, backward never”…..Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972)