Party focus: East Africa Green Federation
We spoke to Green Party project coordinator Jess Northey about her party’s WFD-funded work with the East African Green Federation (EAGF).
When did the Greens’ work with the East African Green Federation get underway?
This is one of our most exciting programmes. It began in 2014, when the Smaller Parties Office of WFD helped put our international coordinator in touch with the European Greens and with Dr Frank Habineza of the African Green Federation (AGF). Over the last few years the AFG has decentralised and organised regional structures, with the idea of being more effective in terms of training, experience-sharing and logistics. Frank Habineza is now part of the EAGF, which was very keen to work with the Green Party of England and Wales. They are very dynamic, interesting and inspiring, so most of our work has been focused on East Africa.
What’s the background to green politics in the region?
For years the East African green movement was dominated by Wangari Muta Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Kenya suffers her loss very deeply, but its green party has a lot of experience. If you go to Kenya you really feel the influence of a strong green political movement on citizen engagement.
The Ecological Party of Uganda was formed more recently, which makes it very dynamic – they’re excited by being a very new movement, they are learning quickly from regional partners. People are beginning to make the link between social justice, economic inequality and protecting the natural world. There are natural linkages between their experience and ours, as we’ve had a huge surge in Green membership in England and Wales
What are the big challenges for Green parties in East Africa?
The discovering of new oil wealth is a big one. Lake Victoria, which borders a number of countries in the region, poses shared challenges relating to natural resource governance. Then there’s the view held by the members and leaders of the region’s green parties that we need to move towards political parties which reject populist, ethnic-based politics and instead focus on good strong policies which tackle both social and environmental injustice. Questions of democratic representation, freedom of speech and the ability to challenge the current system are big issues – the parties are fighting a brave battle on this. They are able to support each other and work together on challenges when, for example, there are large agri-businesses which are polluting water resources.
East Africa Green Federation, Kampala, February 2015
What sort of exchanges have the English/Welsh and East African Greens engaged in up to now?
It’s been a two-way process. We’ve learned very much from the parties in east Africa. What we offer to the parties over there is our technical skills and expertise. What we’ve tried to do is work with the Smaller Parties Office of WFD to organise regional training meetings to develop their strategic planning. Laura Bannister, a fantastic campaigner and very committed member of the GPEW, came over and assisted in a planning meeting.
We also want to support their media and communications strategy. It’s a very different context – African politicians are very bored by our elections. You’d have to up your game significantly and be speaking to thousands and thousands of people. Obviously there’s different scales, and ways they can inspire us: democracy in this country is challenged in a number of ways. We can learn from their very brave campaigners as to how we have to fight to get across these messages and represent people who are at the bottom.
How much experience have you shared about the particular difficulties and opportunities of operating as a smaller party?
We need to look at what are the specific challenges of a smaller party in each of the different contexts. In the UK, it’s hard to get past that threshold to get representation in parliament. That’s not the case in other countries; under a proportional representation system they may be able to grow quicker. In the UK, we’re concerned by the potential changing of electoral borders. We need to learn from what campaigners are doing in Africa, so all parties have a voice and are able to get representation in parliaments.
How is the Green Party in England and Wales’ work with WFD helping achieve our four outcomes – around policy, accountability, representation and citizen participation?
For me, one of the reason why I’m so proud and happy to be a member of the GPEW is the way we make our policy, which while not always easy is a very democratic process at our party conference. We allow all our membership to be part of the process. Our East African colleagues have been invited by the party to the last conference we had, participated in that process, and saw how we function and develop our policies.
In terms of representation, we’re exchanging ideas and looking at how to represent the whole of society – and the country, the planet and natural world that we’re inherently linked to. We encourage young people and women to be very much at the forefront of our political party. We have the youngest greens, the largest young party in the country, and we very much want to encourage that elsewhere. And our leadership is Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas. We have female leaders in part because of the way we function at a local level; we try to aim for 50% candidates across the board, and suggest as much to our African colleagues.
It’s not a one-way process, though. The EAGF may be more representative of the ethnic and social diversity of the country than our party is; we need to increase our black and ethnic minority representation. That’s something we’re working on and trying to improve. It’s a two-way process. We are improving as a party and they can benefit from our experience. In return we can try to share how we captured the passion and the willingness of people to join up and pay fees.
Finally, what ambitions do you have for the East African Green Federation in the year to come? What do you think is possible?
I also work at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, teaching about non-military solutions. Any way I can strengthen the region’s Green parties’ capacities to work on peaceful solutions to conflict – particularly regarding natural resources – is a key ambition for myself. As a Green party member, I’m delighted to be able to help do this directly by working directly with the East African Green Federation. We know we’re operating in very difficult conditions in East Africa, but we also know we will absolutely continue to support them morally and intellectually; I very much see this as a long-term cooperation and exchange programme over the coming years.