Profound changes urged within African National Societies

Published: 10 September 2004 0:00 CET

The 6th Pan-African conference got underway in Algiers with call from Federation President Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro for profound reforms to allow national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to address Africa’s most challenging problems.

“Today I am asking African National Societies to show determination and take all necessary measures to operate profound reforms. Without that, all external assistance provided by our partners will not be enough to have a real impact on the health and well-being of the vulnerable people in Africa,” Suárez del Toro told representatives of the 53 African Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and partner organizations gathered in Algiers for the conference.

“The Federation’s Secretariat, participant National Societies and other partners are ready to bring you a coordinated support to overcome any obstacles provided that African National Societies are ready to face the challenges,” he added.

Del Toro’s views were further reinforced by Dr. Mohamed Salah Badouna, President of the Algerian Red Crescent, who felt that “our continent urgently needs concrete measures to reinforce its National Societies”. Badouna stressed that the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) – initiated by African leaders - represents an ideal framework which needs the support of civil society. He challenged National Societies to display imagination and courage in developing more partnerships. Said Badouna: “Four years ago in Ouagadougou we set milestones for a pragmatic development. In Algiers we must make our objectives a reality.”

Live the principles

At different levels most African National Societies have registered achievements in their work. The South African and Sierra Leone Red Cross Societies as well as those of Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda were singled out “as inspirational examples for promoting an overall Movement cooperation” by Dr. Mohammed Al-Hadid, Chairman of the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The contribution of the two million African volunteers was hailed by all. Without them, mass vaccination campaigns against measles, polio and other preventable diseases would not have been so successful. Without volunteers, HIV/AIDS anti-stigma and home-based care programmes that were implemented in Eastern and Southern Africa would have remained mere abstract ideals. And it was thanks to volunteers again that solid partnerships with the African Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) took concrete forms from Kenya to Sudan, from Ethiopia to Uganda, and from Djibouti to Madagascar.

“In Africa youth represents (…) the majority of many countries’ population (…) they are not only a resource; they are a force for change and continuity when we open our doors to their active and equal participation” said Al-Hadid.

While hailing the Federation-facilitated mechanisms for regional interaction such as ACROFA, which brings together francophone African National Societies, the Southern Africa Partnerships of Red Cross Societies and the RC-Net, linking Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from the Horn of Africa, East Africa, the Great Lakes and the Indian Ocean islands, Al-Hadid reminded participants that “it is time to turn our attention from ‘action’ to ‘impact’ and ‘outputs’ in order to let our supporters and donors know what are the results of our efforts”.

“Our credibility as National Societies, as a Movement, rests with our commitment to walk our talk, to live our principles” said the Chairman of the Standing Commission.

A home for the vulnerable

In his report, the Federation’s Secretary General, Markku Niskala highlighted the efforts made in the fight against poverty, and announced the launch of a new African food security strategy in Algiers. During the coming days participants will have the possibility to analyze their achievements in the fields of disaster management, health and the promotion of humanitarian values and advocacy.

As the 6th Pan African Conference unfolds, the whole Movement is involved in emergency operations to reduce the plight of people displaced by the Darfur conflict in Sudan and Chad. And it was on this tone that the Federation’s President urged African National Societies to reach out to governments, the private sector and other organizations and encourage them to contribute towards saving the lives of the most vulnerable.

“There is a need to strongly and clearly advocate for the needs of the most vulnerable, so that no crisis and emergency goes unnoticed. Strong strategic partnerships coupled with local and sustainable long-term solutions will enable the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement to reduce and prevent situations of suffering,” said del Toro.

“We need to renew our shared sense of solidarity, purpose and vision to work together as a Movement. It is important that we are flexible in our approaches, quick to learn and adapt to the humanitarian changes, and constantly look for ways to improve and strengthen our capacity,” he added.

He also underscored the need to continue strengthening the commitment and relationships with vulnerable communities and make them the target of Red Cross and Red Crescent programmes. “We need to work together with the vulnerable communities, give them hope, help them realize their cherished dreams and make the Red Cross and Red Crescent their home.”

In his address, Jack Forster, Vice-President of the ICRC spelled out the need for a close cooperation within the Movement further emphasizing the priorities announced by the Federation’s President.

Both Forster and Al-Hadid spelled out the need for all components of the Movement to work more closely together to avoid internal competition, as Al-Hadid put it.

“Rather than compete, we should complement each other’s work. Let’s not squabble over who does what, but concentrate on how to best meet the needs of the victims,” he said.

“The world sees us as one entity, not as separate actors. If one fails, all fail.”