- Meeting in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, African Union (AU) leaders, trade unions and employers are discussing ways and means of placing jobs creation at the heart of their countries' development strategies. Liberal economic politics must be checked by social initiatives, they agree. Burkinabe trade unions demonstrated peacefully against the World Bank in the streets of Ouagadougou.
Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaoré is host of the first-ever AU Extraordinary Summit on employment in Ouagadougou. President Compaoré emphasised the importance of focusing on Africa's special employment needs, stressing that an analysis of the employment situation in the continent "reveals the precarious existence of certain African populations, for lack of sufficiently remunerated activities."
In a document presented in December 2003 to a meeting in Addis Ababa on "decent jobs" in Africa, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) had highlighted a set of dramatic figures concerning unemployment and poverty. Nearly three billion people in the world, including 500 million in Africa, barely survive with less than US$ 2 per day. And around 320 million Africans live in extreme poverty with no more than US$ 1 per day.
Unemployment, which has stricken 180 million people in the world, is gaining ground, notably in Africa, where the majority of the population relies on agriculture and the informal sector in the cities. Young people and women are the most vulnerable groups. The jobless rate for youth in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated by ILO at an average of 21 percent. But in some countries of the region, 60 percent of the jobless are youth.
ILO leader Juan Somavia in a statement on his arrival in Ouagadougou on Friday noted that he was in favour of a "different approach" to globalisation, recognising that this process "has opened up opportunities and holds enormous potential." However, he said, its "biggest failure… has been its inability to deliver decent jobs that people need and want." He stressed that "we need a different approach."
The Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATU), along with other trade union groupings, also attended the Ouagadougou meeting, which had a special forum for "Social Partners". OATU Secretary-General Hassan Sunmonu said that "the workers stress for African governments to break away from the neo-liberal policies of the past and promote pro-poor and employment-intensive development policies."
Also the employers emphasised the importance of social dialogue. "This is an asset for Africa," Antonio Penalosa, Secretary-General of the International Employers' Organisation, told the Social Partners Forum. He insisted on the double need to respect workers' social rights while at the same time developing an environment favourable to the creation of enterprises.
Participants of the Ouagadougou Forum issued an appeal for the institutionalisation of the Social Partners Forum, which had the merit of bringing together employers and workers as well as their partners in order to contribute to reflection and action concerning the major problems facing the continent.
Also the politicians, who started their meetings on Saturday, emphasised the need for a social check on current liberal economic politics. Alpha Omar Konaré, President of the African Commission, said he deplored the ravages caused by rabid liberalism. "The law of the market imposes its brutal and even inhuman force" and doesn't pay any attention to the social partners or legal and international norms, he said.
Several hundred demonstrators, who included members of Burkina Faso's trade unions, meanwhile on Sunday morning staged a march to the local Labour Exchange (Bourse du Travail). They carried slogans demanding decent jobs and supporting the struggle against precariousness, poverty and privatisations. They also criticised the structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, arguing that they do not meet the requirements of the current situation marked by a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor.
Burkina Faso trade unions in a statement echoed these views and stressed the need for effective participation by the African populations in the drawing up and implementation of development policies and in the building of a "genuine" rule of law. Demonstrations were totally peaceful.
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