Meetings with labour unionists are opportunities that open new interrogations of complex issues. The determination of African union leaders to create linkages with the wider civil society offers hope for the birth of strong continent-wide movements for positive changes. This was underscored when union leaders gathered in Lome, Togo, 22-26 February to dissect Issues and perspectives on Industrial Development and Employment in Africa: Challenges and opportunities for Trade Unions in the face of Climate Change as the thematic focus of the 6th New Year School of ITUC-Africa. Labour union leaders from across the continent huddled for the week discussing structural economic issues and considering the outcome of climate negotiations and the implications for the world of work.
Over the first two days specific topics x-rayed in plenaries included: The Current State of African Economies: Typologies, Actors, Governance-Institutions and Economic Sectoral linkages; Africa’s Economic Structural Transformation: Policies and Perspectives; Climate Change and Green Jobs in Africa; Economic Sectors Hardest Hit by Climate Change, Country Policy Responses and Trade Union Actions.
After the plenaries, comrades spent 3 days in two workshops of which one was on Structural Industrial Transformation and Agricultural development: Policies and Perspectives and the other on Climate Change and Green Jobs – policies and perspectives.
As I participated I saw that a deep commitment of labour activists to engage on climate change issues holds the key to needed mass mobilisations for system change that would build from the factory floor to climate negotiation halls. While participating in the climate change track, our resilience levels were sorely tested by a fluctuating power situation and by the fact that the design of the building housing the workshop was not climate sensitive.
We came away with a reaffirmation of the fact that climate change is the defining challenge of our time and all agreed to develop and work on national union climate change policies and strategies.
Before leaving Lome, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Kwami Kpondzo of Friends of the Earth Togo and Noble Wadzah of Oilwatch Ghana. Noble had came over from Accra to participate in a workshop of communities impacted by extractive sector activities.
For lunch we had a dish of pounded yam served with pepper soup at Tanty D located at Be-Klikame part of Lome. It is restaurant with a large outdoor eating area under a canopy of luxuriously luxuriant leaves. As we enjoyed our meal a train of itinerant hawkers came around with wares including trousers, shirts, laptop bags and smart phones. And, of course, there was a musician moaning and plucking away on his box guitar. I thought this was surely close to paradise! Then I noticed that above the canopy of leaves were high tension electricity cables. Apart from the harmful radiations from the cables, if they should snap it would mean a one-way ticket to the world beyond for customers engrossed in the great foods served here. We hastily finished our meal and escaped. This is something the Togolese authorities should review.
From Lome, my sights were set on Bamako, Mali. Going to Bamako has turned out to be an experience for me these days. The last time I went, we had to wait for several long minutes for a tyre change on the aircraft that took us from Lome. We landed safely, as you can imagine. This time, as we approached the check in counter, those of us heading to Bamako were asked to step aside and wait. Questions to the officer as to how long we were to wait before check in brought answers in whispers: “Maybe it is not the will of God for you to fly to Bamako today.” That was suspicious to me because although airlines fly above the clouds they do not have a monopoly of access to God. Certainly this was a poor excuse for sloppy business.
As it turned out, the airline had a backlog of passengers for the route and could not take us all. And so, another night in Lome. Soon I will head back to the airport. And probably there will be an update, if you would like to know!