It is that time of the year again when in almost all countries of the world, people from all walks of life, from presidents to prisoners, priests and peasants, professors and plebeians, academics and artists, members of parliament, all kinds of civil society groups, NGOs, politicians and policymakers, students, workers, women, school children, faith-based groups, the unemployed and the unemployable, will be joining the campaign against poverty by STANDING UP in a Guinness World Record challenge in support of the MDGs. It is sponsored by the UN Millennium Campaign (UNMC) and the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP).
It all began on October 17, 2006. The choice of October 17 was made because it is recognised by the UN as International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The Guinness World Records had set a modest target of 10,000 people: ‘the largest number of people to stand up for a particular cause’ in 24 hours. Two days later, after verifying the count, more than 23 million people from almost 100 countries had participated in the Stand Up. The challenge was repeated in 2007 but instead of just asking people to STAND UP, they were also enjoined to SPEAK OUT against poverty, and in support of the fulfilment of the MDGs. Almost 44 million people in more than 100 countries took part in beating the previous year’s record. This weekend the challenge is taking place again but instead of just one day (24 hours) we are conducting the challenge over a three day period beginning at 9.00am on Friday 17 October up to 9am on Sunday 19th October.
People are not only being asked to stand up and speak out, as in previous challenges, they are also being asked to Take Action in support of the MDGs in order to eradicate poverty.
We are hoping not only to break last year’s record of 44 million people, but also the previous year’s figure of 23 million. Both combined will be about 67 million people which are more than 1% of the total population of the world (currently 6.5 billion).
This year’s Stand Up is of crucial importance, given the current crisis facing the global economy; what Nigeria’s former Finance and Foreign Minister, Mrs Ngozi Nkonjo-Iweala, called ‘the four whammies’ (fuel, food, fertiliser and financial crisis) which richer countries are using as the latest excuse not fulfil their commitment on Goal Number 8 (Aid, Debt and Trade). 2008 is also more than halfway through the commitment to meet these goals by 2015. Last month two key meetings were held in New York, one specifically on Africa’s Development needs and the second one on A Midterm Call to Action on MDGs.
Both provided opportunities to review progress made on the MDGs but more importantly the yawning gap between commitments and delivery on the ground to those who need it most. The UN, government and other independent reports give a mixed blessing conclusion. There has been progress on a number of goals practically in all countries. For instance millions of children who would not otherwise have known the inside of a classroom are today in school. The quality of the education may be varied, but in many cases half a loaf must be better than none at all. And over time, quantity should lead to some qualitative improvements. In many countries anti-retrovirals are increasingly available free of charge to a growing number people living with HIV/AIDS. Many children’s lives are being saved by the availability of treated mosquito nets, timely vaccination against childhood diseases, like polio, measles, small pox, etc. That is all good news. But if truth be told, the good news has been uneven across regions of the world and even within the same country. It has been generally slower in many African countries. Eight years may have passed but the next seven are enough for these goals to be fulfilled, if the political will exists both in the enriched countries and impoverished countries, to pursue less greed and more needs-based development strategy – pro-poor and pro-people policies. The current financial meltdown in global capitalism should not be an excuse for reneging on the promises made to the poor but a stimulus to change the way the world is organised to favour a few and penalise the majority. If money can be found to salvage failing bankers surely there should be more to answer the needs of the poor.
It is up to the citizens of the world to put pressure on their governments wherever they may be: remind them of the promises; MAKE EXPLICIT YOUR SUPPORT FOR THEIR FULFILMENT AND LEAVE THEM IN NO DOUBT THAT YOU WILL NOT ACCEPT ANY EXCUSE for their not fulfilling them.
The UN gets all kinds of criticism and many of them are WELL deserved, but not meeting the MDGs cannot be blamed on the UN. It will be a failure of political will of the 189 states who signed up to it in 2000. But it will not be their failure alone; it is also a failure of citizens to hold them to account.
The MDGs are also being attacked by many people for being too minimal, too neo liberal etc. The strangest category among the critics is the development NGOs, some of whom claim to have been fighting poverty and educating the world for decades. If they had succeeded the MDGs would not have been necessary. MDGs are the product of development failure, both by governments, and NGOs and therefore fixing it requires all our efforts. You can become part of the solution by participating in the STAND UP this weekend, but more than standing up, you should take whatever action is possible wherever you are, not only to hold your political leaders to account, but also to make your individual contribution to making the world a better place.
“Forward ever, backward never”…..Kwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972)