African poverty and development priorities

Published: 21 March 2008

Statement by Daniel Sayi, Deputy Head of the IFRC Zone Office for West and Central Africa, at the preparatory meeting held in advance of TICAD IV (Tokyo Conference on African Development), in Libreville

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, as this the first time that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) speaks in this important conference paving the way to Yokohama, I express our sincere thanks to the Government of Japan and other co-organisers for the invitation.

The IFRC and our worldwide membership of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in 186 countries, attach great importance to the sustainable development of Africa.

We recognise that the sustainable development at the global level can not be achieved without having African development integrated in the process.

As a community-based international organisation, our contribution to the development of the continent is through a bottom-up approach – through actively involving the communities and the people, building their capacity and enabling them to be the agent for their own development.

For the IFRC – the world largest humanitarian network – aid to African developing countries can not be sustainable without support in increasing the capacity for service delivery at the local level, in particular in the areas of enhancing human security for each individual and reducing vulnerability at the communities.

In the spirit of “Together for Humanity”, the slogan of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference which gathered 194 governments and 186 National Societies last November in Geneva, the IFRC looks forward to the outcomes of Libreville bringing partnerships which include a community-based bottom-up approach to Yokohama.

Represented by the Secretary General of the IFRC and the President of the Japanese Red Cross Society in TICAD IV, the IFRC will pursue further the discussion with other decision-makers and carry out our commitments to make African development truly people-centred, in partnership with all stakeholders.

In the area of Africa development we are facing some critical challenges.

Since this not a conference for long speeches, allow me to offer some key points based on our experience for your consideration:

Human Resource Development

IFRC strongly believes that the development for Africa should be done in a sustainable way and it can only be achieved when it is mainstreamed and owned at the community level.

For this, the active and effective involvement of the communities and empowerment of the people is very much needed.

For this purpose, we need strong political will to invest in capacity building and good governance to produce positive change and to reverse what is sometimes called the "MDG off-track situation" in the continent.

Our experience shows that investment in institutional development is crucial if we wish to make long term impact. With the enabling environment created by the governments, and with enhanced support to the volunteers and branch networks, the Red Cross and Red Crescent can enhance their participation and support to their governments in Africa.

This will produce strengthened service delivery also improving the mechanisms of the public sector, and be a significant contribution toward the achievement of the MDGs.

Community Development – Building Safe and Healthy Communities (under “Achieving the Millennium Development Goals”)

Serious challenges remain ahead: the increased prevalence of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, the effects of global warming and climate change, massive displacements of people and human trafficking, just to mention a few.

Delivering humanitarian assistance in Africa has also remained a challenge throughout the decades: violent conflicts and severe natural disasters, including widespread refugee movements, have stretched the capacity of UN, African Member States as well as relief agencies.

Rebuilding the capacity at the community level to bridge gaps in public sector: Local communities bear a major responsibility for rebuilding their own services and therefore should own the process of rehabilitation.

For sustainable recovery, the key issue is building sound and workable partnerships with the community.

Climate Change

In recent years, the IFRC and a rapidly growing number of national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have been working with governments, knowledge centres, international agencies, civil society organizations and the private sector to understand and address the humanitarian consequences of climate change and the impact of environmental degradation.

To address climate change requires a change in the way the whole humanitarian community addresses climate-related disasters.

Principally, the IFRC works with the fact that climate change affects poor and vulnerable communities through increases in the scale and scope of weather-related disasters that they face on a year on year basis.

With our focus on building the capacities of our National Societies to support communities to reduce the risks from weather related disasters and their implication on health, and prepare for them more effectively, the IFRC is uniquely positioned to take the lead in bringing the priorities of the Hyogo Framework of Action together.

The IFRC will increasingly focus its efforts on ensuring, in those countries where weather-related disasters and poor health indicators are increasingly affecting vulnerable populations, that it supports its National Societies’ actions to promote climate change adaptation.

This involves, among other things, the application of sound health promotion and disaster risk reduction at community level and through advocacy for strong national policies and strategies at national and global levels.

Human security

For the IFRC, no individual can experience true security without dignity, including having the ability to meet basic needs.

To this extent, increasing people’s resilience (to diseases and disasters) makes up an essential proportion of the IFRC and its National Societies’ work.

Facing the growing interdependence of health and security (in particular human security), the IFRC has reviewed its Health Policy, taken a holistic approach which is being used for the programming and for its implementation from national to community level, and adopted a Global Health and Care Strategy to better respond to the health security situation which is constantly in evolution.

Together with its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the IFRC has intensified the contribution to the socio-economic development, health and security of communities through: capacity building with the National Societies, social mobilisation with volunteers, partnerships at all levels, addressing health in emergencies, community empowerment, awareness raising and advocacy.

Partnership in Health

For the IFRC, health is not only an outcome of development, but also a key contributor to social cohesion, as well as economic and social progress.

We are particularly pleased that this programme is being so actively supported by WHO through its African Regional Organisation, and the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the International Federation and WHO-AFRO on 11 May last year is a real milestone which should help deliver much-needed support to the most vulnerable people much more effectively.


The rationale for integrating a gender perspective into all humanitarian action is firmly rooted in the Fundamental Principles of Humanity and Impartiality.

Gender is also a key component of Goal 4 of the IFRC’s Global Agenda for 2006-2010, to promote respect for diversity and human dignity, and reduce intolerance, discrimination and social exclusion.

Beyond its basis in the raison d’être of the IFRC, gender sensitive programming positively affects the quality, impact and sustainability of Red Cross & Red Crescent humanitarian action – not only for women but also for the wider community, including men, children, and the elderly.

Taking our programming in the HIV/AIDS context as an example, gender sensitive programming has included the collection and analysis of disaggregated data along sex and age lines and hence enabled us to concretely address specific needs of women.

It has empowered women to contribute to the sustainability of HIV programmes, through negotiation and life skills-based training, such as in mother clubs in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, DRC, CAR, etc

In addition, in other contexts, such as female genital mutilation, gender sensitive programming has also enabled us to link HIV prevention to action on socio-cultural practices that are harmful to women’s health.

The 2006 campaign launched by the Red Cross National Societies of Chad, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, with the help of the Swedish Red Cross and Canadian CIDA is a case in point here.

Consolidation of Peace and Good Governance

Our commitment to the ideals which inspire TICAD dates back to the foundation of our organisation after the First World War.

It is a commitment enshrined in our Constitution: our general object is to inspire, encourage, facilitate, and at all times promote all forms of humanitarian activities with a view to preventing and alleviating human suffering and thereby contributing to the maintenance and promotion of peace in the world.

Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are uniquely placed to work alongside both government and civil society partners in pursuit of these objectives.

They are all, by definition, auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field.

They are also very closely related to partners in civil society and the private sector that they are often the best equipped in their countries to draw support for programmes at the local level.

The International Federation listens with interest at conferences where speaker after speaker calls for regional solutions to regional problems.

In our context here African solutions to African problems. We have, in line with this, built partnerships of our own which can take this voice to other institutions. As an example, African National Societies have formed NEPARC, the New Partnership for African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

As is clear from the acronym, NEPARC is built to support the work being done by African governments in NEPAD (but other institutions too) to help strengthen Africa's voice.

Details on the way we approach these issues and the needs of nations and communities are contained in the Algiers Plan of Action, adopted in 2004 by our African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which can be found in the International Federation's website.

The Way Forward
The objectives of our Pan African Conference

The Red Cross Red Crescent Pan African Conference (PAC), which takes place every four years, is convened as a Statutory Meeting under the Constitution of the International Federation and, as such, forms an integral part of the global humanitarian calendar.

The VIIth PAC will take place from 19 to 22 October 2008, in Johannesburg South Africa. The 53 African NS as well as observers, several external organisations and partners will participate in the Conference.

It is an important opportunity to reflect on the many humanitarian challenges the African continent is facing and then exchanging, discussing and formulating / setting the Movement’s agenda for the four years to come.

And endorsing common strategies and solutions, to pool resources, both intellectual and material, and enhance the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's impact on these challenges.

The Conference is open to all partners to the Movement in accordance with our 7 principles.

Our vision in Africa development is focussed on “People” and their improved quality of life, in relation with the MDG’s goals.

Our priorities in Africa are based on the Ouagadougou declaration, reinforced at the end of Algiers Conference. African NS reaffirmed their interventions on the following key areas: Food Security, Community Health, HIV/AIDS and Institutional capacity building. And they will achieve this through integrated programming, focusing on the following strategies: Resource mobilisation, Social mobilisation and Strategic partnerships.

What we wish to achieve in the future
Climate change; international migration; violence, in particular in urban settings; emergent and recurrent diseases and other public health challenges such as access to health care.

The Theme of the PAC is Together for Action in Africa, centred on three Main Topics as the core areas on which plenary and working group discussion will focus:

Communities in Action: Accountability and Ownership; Volunteer Management with special emphasis on Youth; Rising Challenges through increased Migration with Special Emphasis on Restoring Family Links.
Promoting Community Resilience: Building Sustainable Livelihoods, Conflict/Violence in Urban Settings and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management with Special Emphasis on Climate Change.
Resourcing Community Action: Building Partnerships and Alliances, Auxiliary Role of National Societies, Intensified Capacity Building for Better Health and Care Delivery.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, The IFRC, which is recognised as an international organisation by the United Nations, is in a good position to use its international persona to represent the interests of African National Societies and their community base at these institutions.

It is because of this role that the International Federation is able to be here at this important meeting. The energy of the Government of Japan as the inspiration and guide to TICAD, and the contribution of the Global Coalition for Africa, UNDP and the World Bank have made possible a serious and profound discussion on some core issues.

The International Federation welcomes the proposal of the co-organisers to follow this meeting with concrete recommendations for the establishment of a more effective and efficient humanitarian framework.

We are ready to take part in such an exercise, and our Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are ready to take part at the national level. In doing so, we trust that the dialogue will be one which recognises the cyclical crises which now affect Africans so deeply.

Poverty, conflict, disease, famine, discrimination and despair are all interlinked, everywhere in the world. In Africa, however, this interlinkage has reached crisis proportions which demands action now.

That demand makes it imperative that the work to be done is holistic, covering all aspects. This requires the engagement of many partners, and we from the Red Cross Red Crescent are keen to play our part.

This is part of our commitment to a world free from suffering and deprivation, a world at peace.