Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Oxfam’

The Sahel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th February, 2013

Sahel womenSahelI had a distinct sense of déja vu all over again at Europe House in Westminster this evening at the screening of a short documentary film “The Human Chain” (directed by Riccardo Russo). The film was co-produced by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Commission, to highlight their joint response to the 2012 drought and consequent hunger in the region that forms the southern belt to the Sahara. The déja vu was because I was in the Sahel in 1979, researching a report for the World Council of Churches (WCC) on The Use and Abuse of Food Aid and more than 30 years on this all seemed achingly familiar. I kept in touch with region, being the founder-Secretary of a British NGO SOS Sahel, and then later (1991-2000) being Mauritania’s Honorary Consul to the Court of St. James’s. The Sahel is still subject to cyclical drought and famine, despite worthy efforts to stop soil erosion through tree-planting and the like. Climate change has certainly not helped. Greg Barrow of the WFP (a former BBC East Africa correspondent) moderated the debate after the film screening this evening, with a panel made up of current BBC correspondent Mark Doyle (hot foot from the mayhem in Mali), Maya Mailer from Oxfam and the new Head of the European Commission’s representation in London, Jackie Minor. There were a number of old Africa hands in the audience who made contributions, including a radical blast froma colleague of  my Food Aid past Benny Denbitzer, who was fairly hostile to the film. I spoke sharing his depression, not because because the film is bad — on the contrary, it is very good, using some really well-chosen and sympathetically portrayed vox populi. I was depressed because so little has changed and I don’t see how the Sahel can escape from the spiral of deprivation unless there is a holistic approach to the region’s challenges by both the region’s governments and the European Union (and its constituent Member States), as well as international organizations such as WFP and aid agencies, but extending further than mere aid and even conventional development. Europe does have to take a certain responsibility for the Sahel, for both historical and geographical reasons, and that needs to be embraced in a spirit of equal partnership with the countries and people concerned. All this needs to go far beyond the security and anti-terrorism partnership proclaimed by David Cameron or Francois Hollande. Otherwise the Sahel will be condemned to suffer for eternity.

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Lobbying the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2009

This evening I was one of two speakers at the European Society at King’s College, London, on the theme of lobbying the European Union. My co-panelist, David Coen, of University College London (UCL), presented an excellent academic framework to and analysis of the current state of the lobbying operation in Brussels, notably by the commercial sector, whereas I concentrated more on the political principles involved and the work of NGOs. About 2,600 organisations and groups of various kinds have a permanent base in Brussels, from which they can establish a close working relationship with officials in the European Commission and — increasingly — members of the European Parliament, as the latter institution increases its powers.

I used illustrations from the work that I did after I left Reuters in Brussels, as the first Executive Secretary of the NGO Liaison Committee to the European Communities — which brought together European-based Third World charities such as Oxfam (UK) and Trocaire (Ireland), which were conduits for European funds for development and development education — as well as the founding Secretary of the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA), which has for the past three decades monitored EU matters of interest to the Religious Society of Friends and other sections of the peace movement, for example on the right to concientious objection and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

Using a template devised by Wilhelm Lehmann and others six years ago, I spoke of the four main functions of lobbying in Brussels: (1) a service function in researching and providing information to one’s client base or special interest group, (2) a lobbying function of influencing decision-making by contact with the appropriate authorities, (3) a decision-making function, in which special interest groups are consulted and involved in drafting  directives and other measures, and (4) an implementation function, putting European policies into practice (for example, NGOs working with the elderly, helping to implement anti-age discrimination policies).

Lobbying sometimes has a bad name in the popular imagination or the tabloid press. But in a modern democracy, the powers that be should consult widely with a wide range of interested sectors in society. When done well, this means that European legislation is better than it might have been, and is closer to the citizens of Europe.

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The BBC’s Gaza Gaffe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 25th January, 2009

The BBC’s outrageous decision to bar the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC)* from broadcasting an Appeal for the people of Gaza is another nail in the coffin of the organisation’s credibiity and international standing. Moreover, it breaches the corporation’s own guidelines about emergency appeals, namely:

1) the disaster must be on such a scale and of such emergency as to call for swift international humanitarian assistance;

2) the DEC agencies (or some of them) must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal.

3) there must be sufficient public awareness, and sympathy for the humanitarian situation as to give reasonable grounds for concluding that a public Appeal would be successful. 

Having myself been on a London march in which tens of thousands of people were calling for an end to the recent  bloody onslaught on Gaza, I have no doubt of the strength of public opinion regarding the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza now that hostilities have ended. The BBC management’s excuse that somehow there would be a conflict of interest because of the graphic images of dead and wounded children and other victims shown as recent news itelms is, frankly, bollocks. I first became concerned about international affairs and humanitarian fundraising during the Biafra conflict in the late 1960s, when TV film footage of starving children there had a powerful role in raising public awareness in Britain and boosting funds sent to charities.

The BBC should immediately reverse its ignoble decision not to screen the DEC Appeal for Gaza and the people within the Corporation who were ultimately responsible should seriously consider resigning,  if the BBC is to salvage its ever more battered reputation.

Polite messages of protest to the BBC can be sent via the link below.

* The Disasters Emergency Committee groups the 13 largest overseas aid agencies in Britain, such as the British Red Cross, Christian Aid and Oxfam


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