By: LABAN ROBERT and NJERI RUGENE
The Ford Foundation will continue to finance projects that address inequality in access to natural resources and social injustice which have been linked to violent extremism.
Mr Martin Abregu, the foundation’s vice president who also heads its global grant, says limited rights to access and use of natural resources to generate wealth by minorities is a key cause of inequality and social injustices in Africa.
The absence of a proper policy to address the disparities, Mr Abregu said, has led to constant conflicts and violent extremism in most parts of the world, with East Africa bearing the brunt of the Somalia-based terror group Al-Shabaab.
Mr Abregu, who is from Argentina, was among a group of scholars, land rights experts and human rights campaigners who had converged at the Serena Beach Resort in Mombasa to discuss the right of access, use and ownership of natural resources with a focus on land and water.
He spoke to Nation.co.ke on the sidelines of the annual four-day forum which attracted local and international delegates drawn from civil society groups and community initiatives supported by the Ford Foundation.
FORMULATE RIGHT POLICIES
Mr Abregu said strengthening civil societies will influence formulation of the right policies that will address the plight of marginalised and minority groups.
“Ford Foundation listens and relies on you civil societies in amplifying voices of communities for meaningful social change. You are the producers of strategies for change,’’ he said.
You are important in identifying the target and the right message to deliver. The foundation will give you resources to solve the problems,” Mr Abregu who also heads the foundation’s democracy, rights and justice program told the delegates.
He, however, asked civil society groups under the foundation’s umbrella to use their funds diligently in achieving social justice for minorities and in empowering women and fighting inequality.
The former law professor argued that when these groups are not part of decisions made by governments and their agencies, rebellion sets in leading to violent extremism from desperate youth.
“The foundation gives you support as the implementers of the projects because we trust your judgment in identifying and tackling what is at the centre of injustices,’’ Mr Abregu said.
According to him, despite being part of the wealth generation chain, women are limited in fully accessing natural resources, making it difficult to close the gap between the rich and the poor.
“Opening up the use of natural resources is an opportunity to tackling inequality.
“Ford Foundation is committed to working with the people of Africa in advocating reviews of laws and mobilising communities against unfriendly traditions,’’ he said.
“Everyone, including women, must have a say on how resources are exploited, managed and returns are shared,” Mr Abregu added in the interview with the Nation.
The meeting identified Kenya’s Coast region as one of the hot spots for land inequalities, where indigenous communities feel deprived of their right to the resource.
According to Mr Abregu, while resistance to change of status quo is imminent, agitation from civil societies and other non-state actors would bring equality.
Use of mainstream and social media is also key in changing the traditional perception of minorities and women as inferior in economic frontiers, he said.
“In some countries, soap operas are used to show women as powerful centres of social change,” he said.