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Taking the Easy Way Out: Presidential speeches
by Robyn L
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa •• Sept. 4, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• On Monday, 2nd September, world leaders gathered in the Pavilion in Sandton Convention Centre to address each other and dignitaries (such as Nelson R. Mandela) - as well as the press. The aim of this session was to give all countries the opportunity to explain where they stood concerning Agenda 21 and Sustainable Development, as well as highlight issues and problems that they believed were of paramount importance to the debate.

After opening addresses from President Mbeki and Kofi Anan, the President of Iceland opened the floor by stating that his country believed that the main problem inhibiting effective Agenda 21 implementation was the lack of political will, and that effective measures included realizing common but differentiated goals and responsibilities. Venezuela followed with a surprising criticism on the neo-liberal global model of trade. (Here he was supported by the Ugandan President, who claimed that this system was parasitic). He claimed that by imposing this model on lesser developed countries, the world was attempting to make an unsustainable model sustainable. He also placed emphasis on Humanism, saying that without it development is impossible; this statement, along with challenging the world to create a global Humanitarian fund with monies taken from military budgets, gained much applause from the crowds.

The next interesting statement came (again surprsingly) from the President of Guyana. He claimed that small countries are shouldering much of the Sustainable Development burden and attempting to implement Agenda 21 along with heavy debts weighing them down. He claimed that the richer, more developed countries that could afford to work harder at Sustainable Development were not doing so, and that this double standard in international political and economic affairs was wrong and should not be tolerated.

A relevant follow-on came from Germany, stating that industrial nations had a greater responsibility to the environment, and ratifying Kyoto was essential. He also claimed that a reduction of subsidies was important in connection with aid to developing countries.

Possibily the most interesting delivery (and most controversial after Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe) to me as a South African was Namibia's speech. Sam Nujoma began in a fairly accpetable manner, stating the much-used refrain that environmental degradation must be effectively addressed. He then moved on to openly criticising Tony Blair for the sanctions he is imposing on Zimbabwe; he claimed that in Zimbabwe, 78% of land is white owned, while 14 million indigenous peope remain landless. He demanded that this situation must be changed, thus openly supporting Mugabe's land invasion policy. What was even more of a surprise is that this statement led to tumultuous applause from most of those present.

Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, was a concise, logical speaker who surprised me with his excellent delivery and seemingly coherent dialogue. He too was a very controversial speaker, openly criticising Tony Blair (with his finger waving at him) stating that he had never atempted to take an inch of Blair's land - he has left Blair his England, and Blair must leave him his Zimbabwe.

Tony Blair's speech, although well-delivered, had the most talk / action controversy. Blair firstly agreed with the President of Iceland about the need for political will: he claimed that we know the problem and the solution - all we need is the political will to do it. He then went on to state that the world needed a clear direction to opening world trade to developing countries, and the world must focus on the removal of subsidies, especially agriculture for the developing world. He claimed that this would not be charity, but investment, and closed with this statement: "If Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world, then it is our duty to heal it."

What is interesting to note is that both European countries (Germany and Britain) focussed particularly on the removal of agricultural subsidies. However, it is the very existence of these subsidies that Oxfam was protesting about a few days before. So at the Summit we had two European presidents campaigning against something which both countries implement.

This leads me on to my next point: listening to most of the speeches, I felt that they had all taken them from the same template. All seemed to agree with the terrible state of the environment, the need to ratify Kyoto and what new action plans would be implemented in their countries in months to follow. I felt that this particular part of the conference was simply telling people what they wanted to hear - to listen to Tony Blair claiming that Africa is, for him, a passion seemed a little trite. For this reason I have a little more respect for both Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma, and all other countries who felt the need to criticize, demand, and speak out. Although I may not agree with their policies, I was pleased that some countries were not taking the easy way out by telling us exactly what we wanted to hear.

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