International Institute for Justice and Development

Cornell Model United Nations Conference VII Keynote Address

Hosted by the Cornell International Affairs Society, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

April 3-6, 2008

Thank you for the wonderful introduction and good evening everyone. I am both honored and flattered to have been asked to speak for this wonderful occasion. Let me begin by congratulating each one of the members of Cornell University International Society for organizing such an even and providing the opportunity to young people and students to learn more and get involved in international affairs.

It's also good to be in Ithaca. It is one of the destinations I have planed to visit for some time. I was also encouraged by the fact that I know a couple of people in this prestigious university and mainly because the International institute for Justice and Development (IIJD) Inc had welcome some of its interns from Cornell University.

It’s a fantastic time to be having such forum. Some of you will be graduating in a couple of weeks. Being student is a period of life when we have big dreams. When we are younger, we dream very big, which is fine. It is a simple process to imagine a world in which we want to be, what we want to do or what we want accomplished. Dreams are big part of the reality. Positive thoughts are poured out of us and things seem to be very simple. Of course, growing up, and as time goes, we learn very quickly that things do not just happen. For our dream to happen, we have to put in efforts and hard work. Events like this give the opportunity to have a sense of world realities. Besides meeting with other students with the same dreams, such events also help sharpen young students’ understanding of International affairs. This is great for future leaders of the world.

Who I am? Where I came from? what I do? why I do it?

I am originally from Cameroon in Africa; I immigrated in to United States of America in 1997. I have been involved in the issues of Democratic governance, human development for the past two decades. While a student at Yaoundé University in 1989, I had my own dream; my big dream became the drive and passion of my life. Since that time, I have always been in facilitating the development of poor countries debilitated by corrupt governance, especially those in Africa, to become democratic and economically stable.

About Cameroon

Some of you may be hearing about Cameroon for the first time. Cameroon is home to more to more than 250 ethnic groups. It was in 1472 that the First European, the Portuguese sailor, Fernando Poo landed in the coast of Cameroon. Europeans were coming in the region for coastal trade and the acquisition of the slaves. By the 16th century, Cameroon was one major source of slaves for the new world. The transatlantic slaves’ trade lasted till the 19th century.

However, Cameroon, as we know it today, was created as result of the resolution of the Berlin Conference of November 1884 to February 1885 to divide the Continent of Africa between major Europeans powers of the 19th century. Germany took possession of the territories of Cameroon that became a German Protectorate from 1884 to 1916. When Germany lost the First War World, the political configuration of Kamerun rapidly changed. Kamerun was partitioned into British and French spheres of influence; both spheres were mandated territories of the League of the Nations administered by Great Britain and France by 1922. After the Second World War, Both territories of Cameroon became United Nations’ Trust Territories in 1946. Great Britain and France had the mandate to drive them to autonomy.

After the World War II, Nationalism blossomed in Africa. In Cameroon; the first political party created in April 1948 called for complete independence as well as reunification of both Cameroons. French Cameroon got its independence in 1960, British Cameroon followed in 1961, and the same year, both Cameroons came together to form the Federal Republic. In 1972, the Federal Republic became the United Republic of Cameroon, and since 1984, Cameroon officially is called: Republic of Cameroon.

African countries’ post colonial institutions of government

At the Independence (mostly in the 1960s), most, if not all, African institutions of governance were taken over from colonial powers. The colonial style of governance had never reflected the traditional African customs and morals, and therefore, were utterly unsuited for any kind of legitimate democratic governance in the region. Not only do these government structures prohibit people from participating in the civil society, they create systemic barriers to protecting and carrying out civil rights. The executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the government are often not clearly, if at all, separated. In many countries, the executive branch simply swallows the judicial, which results in the absence of the rule of law, violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (articles 7-11).

The absence of clear separation of powers also results in the lack of checks and balances within the government, allowing for unchallenged leadership performance, widespread corruption, and inadequate justice system infrastructure that plagues many African states. These systemic deficiencies reach far back into the colonial history of the region and continue to shape the overwhelmingly negative perceptions of these institutions. The Police Force, for example, established in the colonies was anti-people. Trained to break strikes and suppress labors and students unrests, the police were deployed as tools for punitive colonial expeditions. The people living in Africa continue today to suffer under repressive police forces and an anti-police citizenry. Violence, abduction and murdered of educated and political opponents became a state policy under African post colonial government supported by former colonial powers. They became ensnared in extortion, violence, torture, illegal arrests, and extra-judicial killings. 1 This is not really different from what is happening today in Kenya, Chad, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe, just to mention few countries now in the spotlight.

That’s how Cameroon was in late 1980 when I entered the University to study law. It was a country where people, including students in the campus were only allowed to get organized in associations sponsored by the government. The only lawful organization authorized was the ruling party. Spies and secret police agents were everywhere in the campus, and even professors were not allowed to speak at the conference without prior approval of the political leadership. It was under those circumstances that I, along with ten others students, decided to establish a Students’ organization to address some of the issues students were facing on a daily basis in the campus, and after graduation. I should mention that the first Universities were created in Africa mainly to train civil servants for the administration of newly independent States. Twenty years later, there was no guarantee of a career or job in the government for everybody after graduating from Universities anymore.

In response to students’ demands, and other public protests against mismanagement of country resources, government’s abuses of human rights and lack of democratic governance, the government implemented drastic repressive measures using the police, gendarme, and military forces. 

Government increased the repression of students’ leaders. Along with newly founded civil society organizations, the country was totally paralyzed for months, the economy was crumbling and by the end of 1990, the dictatorial regime of one party system of government was forced to establish multiparty system. In October of 1992, for their first time ever, Cameroonians had the right to congregate in organizations of their choice and to vote for their President in a multiparty presidential election. Mr. Paul Biya lost the election, but with the help of the military and polices forces and the support of France, he organized his electoral coup and proclaimed himself winner. The leader of the opposition who won the elections was put in house arrest; students were persecuted and excluded from all university and higher education institutions of Cameroon. I had to leave that country in May of 1993. I lived in West Africa for four years where I was able to finish my legal studies, which I later completed with another law degree from the Boston University Law School.

My experience as student leader and my involvement in the democracy fight was the beginning of my quest towards addressing the fundamental issues of the African development crisis and poverty on a systemic and institutional level.

As a result of my student’s dream, I have spent most of my young career developing and managing organizations in the areas of international justice and development. In 2001, The IIJD was founded in order to continue to seek to address the startling weaknesses often found in the development field by actively advocating systemic reforms, local capacity building, and the infrastructure necessary to inculcate sustainable development.

Global issues our world faces

I know there will be a lot of talks about international affairs, international justice, Globalization, global challenges, such as poverty, global warming, global security, global economy, war, peace, genocide, international trade, debt relief, and so on….?Without minimizing the importance of other global issues we face, I would like to insist tonight on the two great challenges that life in our globalizing twenty-first century world presents:

The first is the challenge of Making our world SAFER.

As global citizens, we are closer and more dependent on each other today more than at any other time in the history of the world. We all are subject to mutual concerns, ranging from communal security threats, communicable diseases. Global business and commercial exchanges dominate international trade and have widespread effects. Living in the United States or elsewhere, we are individually and collectively dependent on people who live in other continents. Therefore enlightened self-interest should not be the response to issues other communities or nations face. Globalization must expand its scope from economic agendas to include social justice on a global scale. The West has an "enlightened self-interest" in tackling poverty. Where there is injustice and poverty, where people feel humiliated, discriminated and ignored by our everyday actions, hopelessness and despair are bred.

Making our world safer include fighting the historical roots of injustice and poverty. These include the economic and social injustice apparent in developing countries’ governmental and social systems, leading to extreme poverty, discrimination, frustration, humiliation, exploitation, and dictatorship. The legacies of the cold war and the domination of the world by greedy multinational corporations have created angry, hopeless and vulnerable people who can easily be recruited by terrorists or extremists. The rise of international terrorism, mass movements of people, and the transformation in communications technology had made it easier for angry people and terrorists to plan and co-ordinate their campaign. I have always believed that the fight in making our world Safer would have been easily won if the focus had been on reforming policies, reaching out to people, respecting others, promoting justice nationally and internationally, developing more people centered policies, and breaking the cycle of dominance and hatred.

The second is the challenge to Making our World Better.

Despite decades of funding from international development programs in many developing countries, human development has regressed in recent years for three-fifth of the world's population. In most African countries, people are poorer today than they were 20 years ago. Basic social services such as water, electricity, roads, health care, educational systems and other public infrastructures have collapsed. Millions of people die annually worldwide from water-borne diseases. The lack of access to safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation leads to infectious diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, typhoid and malaria. These easily preventable diseases are the most common causes of death in developing world.

Images of African poverty are displayed on television sets and newspapers around the world. However, I must say here that even though the people of Africa are known to be the poorest of the world, some of the largest, and richest, mineral deposits in the world are found throughout the continent, in all countries in Africa. Africa's known mineral wealth places it among the world's richest continents.

Africa’s mineral resources includes coal, petroleum, natural gas, uranium, radium, low-cost thorium, iron ores, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, zinc, tin, bauxite, titanium, antimony, gold, platinum, tantalum, germanium, lithium, phosphates, and diamonds.

Just to give you an idea, please think about this:

  • 50% of the world’s gold reserves are in Africa
  • 25% of the world’s uranium resources are in Africa
  • 95% of the world’s diamonds are in Africa. I repeat: 95% of the world’s diamonds
  • 33% of chrome reserves are in Africa
  • 33% of the world reserves of cobalt are in Africa
  • 65% of the world’s cocoa production comes from Africa

African people are resourceful, resilient and up to the challenges. So why are things only getting worse or not as better as we'd want in that continent? Why hasn’t significant progress been made in Africa?

The problem clearly appears to be wrong policies, wrong targets, wrong priorities, poor leadership, weak institutions, and lack of accountability.

Several initiatives had been launched to address the issue of poverty at the global scale. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by 189 nations at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, makes an attempt to make our world better by eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, and reducing under-five years old child mortality, to name but a few – all by the year 2015. These eight Goals have quickly become the core around which both governments and relief agencies base their missions and resources. The Goals form a blueprint now agreed to by all countries and leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest nations. The 2007 report on the MDGs shows that progress have been extremely slow, the reality is that the whole of sub-Saharan Africa will fail to meet the goals set eight years ago for eradicating global poverty by 2015. Throughout this week at the United Nations, there is the debate around the Millennium Development Goals.

From the Sub-Saharan African standpoint, there are two basic problems with the Goals.

First, the Goals are unfair. In defining what “success” or “failure” in achieving the Goals are, the Millennium Project makes some rather arbitrary and unreasonable choices. Africa simply cannot be compared to other poor regions of the world. There are vast differences between countries when it comes to their abilities to cope with poverty. It is clear that all the developing countries do not stand on the same level; and  The Goals do not make this assumption. The Goals are then inequitable because, as they set out to measure the statistical rate of change, they forget to consider the ample differences in the absolute numerical changes. It is evident and widely acknowledged that Sub-Saharan Africa, then, does not have a chance at achieving the Goals. While a few of those with a sense of hope prevail, most have accepted that Africa will not eradicate extreme poverty, effectively combat HIV/AIDS, and have universal primary education, among other things, by 2015. Africa will simply not reach the ambitious Goals. (Easterly 2007)

Second, the Goals fail to address the underlying causes of Africa’s development crisis. While succeeding in giving detailed descriptions of both the symptoms of the problems and the logical remedies to the symptoms, the Goals seem to ignore – figuratively speaking – the actual “disease”.

Not only does the description of poverty provide an inapplicable and inadequate picture of the pathways that lead to that state of affairs, an enormous literature draws on description to arrive directly at important policy decisions. They merely scratch the surface when it comes to solving the current development crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even when the MDGs talk about good governance and other conditionalities in providing fundings needed to fulfill the Goals, they fail to make institutions reforms and good governance a priority in addressing the issues.

In October 2006, a diverse group of academic scholars, development professionals, civil society leaders, entrepreneurs, and researchers - most of them Africans themselves – gathered in Boston, Massachusetts in order to find an answer to the burning question: What are the root causes prompting the well-visible symptoms of Africa’s development crisis? The International Institute for Justice and Development (IIJD) hosted the International Conference on the State of Affairs of Africa (ICSAA), the first of its kind. While acknowledging that historical facts such as slavery, colonialism, and mismanaged globalization play a role in where Africa is today, the conference participants found the root causes of the current development crisis and relentless poverty to originate mainly in dysfunctional systems of governance. These systems, supported by less than adequate leadership and weak political and economic institutions, stand at the bottom of the visible symptoms of poverty. The ICSAA participants also found that Africa’s debt crisis and badly managed international interventions are among the contributing factors to the current development crisis. In addition, poor education systems and the refusal to acknowledge women as essential participants in economic, social, and political development have roles to play. The conference also recognized that African people themselves should be empowered to define their priorities and take the lead in resolving their problems. International institutions should stop imposing their prescriptions.

Particularities of Africa’s Development Problems

What makes the situation in Africa so complicated and unique is the combination of multiple factors: poverty, diseases, low national saving rate, weak human capital, low and negative growth rates, insufficient inflows of private and foreign capital, weak or bad institutions, dictatorship, lack of accountability, and a nonexistent independent judicial system, just to mention a few. To the above, it can be added that: most of the groups in power in several Sub Saharan African countries, even when they did reach the power through free and fair elections, have hijacked their “government”. Opposed to any democratic and free elections, they manage to stay in power by all means not to serve their people, but to enrich themselves, their political clan, and their military and paramilitary cronies with the blessings of foreign groups or governments. It is only by changing the nature and the ways international development is conducted and adopting new strategies with more precise priorities that we can end extreme poverty and provide long-term solutions to poor communities and developing nations.

We  also believe at the International Institute for Justice and Development (IIJD) that not only have past trade policies formulated and imposed by financial institutions and the international community failed to produce positive outcomes, but countries now face mounting debts. A system of development or foreign aid conceived to make corrupted leaders rich while shackling poor countries with debts they can never fully pay back has not made our world safer. Funding relief and emergency programs, however, sometimes necessary, will never end poverty. Although the political, social and economic crisis in Africa can be attributed to past mistakes of the international community for their role in funding non sustainable development programs and supporting corrupted and illegitimate regimes in part; We have always argues that African must take responsibility for the lack of development in their countries as a result of bad leadership, authoritarian regimes, brutal repression, senseless wars, capital flight, mismanagement of countries resources, lack of accountability and transparency, and rampant corruption. These factors have led to squandering, misuse and more often misappropriation of development funds and national resources.

After years of political correctness surrounding discussions on Africa, the world must begin to deal differently with the continent. Our role and service for humanity and in making our world better and safer should go beyond highlighting issues. Concentrating our efforts and resources on the symptoms, avoiding the tackle their underlying sources won’t end poverty in the region.

Most “experts on Africa” have long designed the solutions for the continent’s problems without having discussed with ordinary Africans. For most of these “experts” more aid, investment in agricultural, health, and technology in Africa, debt relief will get the continent Africa out of the “poverty trap”. Some strongly believe that by describing the issues Africa faces, or investing on year-end reports on issues such as corruption, democracy, human rights abuses, genocide, or traveling to observe elections, these issues will just end by themselves. For others, live concerts, and some travel through Africa with some goods, with cameras will create development there. It’s an illusion that we would like to burst.

Today, there exists consensus around the idea that the repressive political environment and the systemic barriers to securing civil and political rights imposed by government institutions paralyze the ingenuity of the people of Africa and precipitate the decline of the continent into poverty. The continent of Africa, for example needs more than traditional big economic theories, and more than a formal democracy on paper. Africans need a society where people are free to lead their own lives without fear of their own government officials and policies; they need a society where they can freely elect their leaders, where leaders are accountable and a society where they have control on their resources.

Until more effective people centered policies and long-term measures towards poverty alleviation are put into place, it seems likely that the majority of innocent citizens will continue to live in poverty and desperation with no hope for a better future.

In meeting the global challenges our world faces, our collective aim should be to address not only the symptoms of the problems but their roots causes. The first step in dealing with the underlying factors is gaining a firm understanding of these challenges and their implications in daily life. Increased awareness of weak institutions, poor justice systems and information on how they function, or do not function, why they do not, will not only aid us in pursuing productive solutions, but will also support the core belief that well-functioning institutions of governance, and specially an independent justice system is a critical step in the establishment of such environment. The promotion of an independent judiciary and of a fair and accessible justice system that adheres to principles of democratic governance and the Rule of Law for all people nationally and internationally will advance democracy, protect human rights abuses, bring accountability, and secure private and foreign investments. A strong and independent judiciary is the key in combating corruption, misappropriation of national resources, and most importantly will stop the massive brain drain of educated and capable Africans who are willing to contribute to the development efforts of the African continent.

Let’s be clear on something. As for any poor community, African poverty won’t be solved through emergency and relief programs. It’s time for people interested in making our world better, to unify their intellect and expertise, and to spend time and allocating money to tackle the root causes of development crisis around the world and persistent poverty in Africa by reforming the institutions of governance for more transparency and accountability, and by helping build the capacity of civil society, the infrastructures needed for sustainable development.

More foreign aid, debt relief, more investment can contribute to the solution, but it is not the solution. More money under current conditions would not necessarily help. Africans should not be given a false sense of hope as it’s been the case for a long time.

My friends, as you meet these days to discuss the state of our world, the issues we face, and to think about solutions to meet these challenges, I urge you not to get discouraged by the immensity of the task, to remain as motivated as you were when you decided to attend this conference, to get involved, and when you leave this conference after your deliberations, always think about what you can do to make our world better and safer. You’ll find drive, determination, and a refusal to give up. Above all, paint yourself into the big picture of your success and self-belief. And, always remember that you are on this earth to make a difference, accept nothing less. The sooner you start, the sooner you will succeed.

While many politicians and experts in the development field sometime ask about what world they will leave to their children; for many of us, the future is still ahead, and it is about the world we will live in. We have no choice in this globalizing world, but to make it better and safer.

Thank you for your attention

Benjamin Ngachoko
President - CEO
International Institute for Justice and Development, (IIJD), Inc