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New Opportunities in Euro-African Relations & to empower Women to boost Development- Reflections on Oxfam´s Celine Chaveriat´s presentation

By Pilar Rukavina, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy.

The impressive list of speakers at last month’s European African Alliance Conference included Celine Charveriat, Director of Advoacy and Campaigns at Oxfam International. Oxfam is a widely respected, infamous actor for development not only in Africa but worldwide, and we were given the rare opportunity to hear one of its senior employees present her views on the dynamics of Euro-African relations.

Let us begin with a bit of background information about Oxfam. Oxfam is an international confederation, consisting of 17 organizations who work in 94 developing countries. The overall mission of Oxfam is to fight global poverty and injustice by employing the following methods; global campaigns, humanitarian aid and long term development programs.

Oxfam makes extensive use of Cultural Diplomacy, as Ms. Charveriat confirmed when she stated that Oxfam is a “civil society organization able to persuade through culture, values and ideas, as opposed to hard power”. So what has given Oxfam such persuasive power and legitimacy worldwide?

Ms Charveriat listed the ingredients of Oxfam´s soft power: 70 years on the ground working with people in poverty, credibility afforded to the organization by countless policy-makers and academics, a widespread network of partners, supporters and celebrities as well as Oxfam´s mass communications outreach programs. Such persuasive power is demonstrated by Oxfam´s numerous successful campaigns, such as the ´Access to Medicines´ Campaign and ´Control Arms´ Campaign.

Having given us an insight to Oxfam´s goals and mechanisms, Ms Charveriat stated the need to reframe the development discourse with African and European policy makers and the private sector.  This entails moving from “just aid, solidarity, charity or philanthropy and northern NGOs to:

  • Empowered rights holders and accountable duty holders
  • Fair trade and responsible business practices
  • Domestic resource mobilization and fair taxation
  • Self-interest and international obligations
  • A strong African civil society
  • Gender justice and the fight against inequality and exclusion”

According to Ms. Charveriat, several steps can be taken to encourage been a shift in beliefs and attitudes of European citizens on Africa and poverty. This is reflected in the evolution of the Oxfam campaigns she maps out with the use of previous campaign images.  Initially, Oxfam utilized images of those suffering to create outrage. Then, people in poverty were portrayed with dignity. Later, emphasis campaigns were geared towards the promotion of fair trade over ´hand outs´. Oxfam then picked up on the need to counter the so-called ´emergency fatigue´, a phenomenon which involves people becoming immune to certain images due to their constant repetition. Oxfam reacted to this by instead depicting everyday life in the DRC (instead of war scenarios).In its 2013 UK campaign, Oxfam picked up on the ´power of positive framing´, with slogans such as ´Let´s make Africa famous for its epic landscapes, not hunger´. With such examples, Ms. Charveriat shows us how an international organization can use Cultural Diplomacy through mass media to influence common perceptions about Africa.

But such initiatives of Cultural Diplomacy to challenge widespread beliefs are of course not limited to global campaigns. Indeed, many start within Africa itself, such as the ´Female Food Heroes´ Project carried out in Tanzania. In this instance, Oxfam collaborated with local partners to confront stereotypes about the role of women in agriculture. A competition for the female food hero was created, reaching more than 25 million people through mass media. This project will further be built upon through the involvement of a popular reality TV show and government ministries and will be extended to other countries.

Further initiatives must involve the promotion of transboundary active citizenship, of which Ms. Charveriat cited several. For instance, major mass cultural events can be used as opportunities for mobilization and awareness raising. South Africa´s World Cup for example, acted as a platform for campaigning on improved aid heightened government accountability with regards to the delivery of health and education. Furthermore, Ms. Charveriat insisted on the need to work with artists and cultural icons to influence policy, practices, values and ideas. Another vital step entails the supporting of African voices in continental and international debates, of which Ms. Charveriat gave several examples. Finally, she stressed the need to influence the African private sector through consumer awareness and consumption choices. Oxfam for example has played a major role in this field through its extensive activities in the Fair Trade movement. Its Bitter Coffee campaign challenges practices in the coffee sector and its new Behind the Brand campaign targets the world´s ten largest food companies.

Ms. Charveriat concluded her presentation on an optimistic note by pointing to new opportunities and positive trends in the 21st century, such as the return of growth and private sector investment in the continent as well as the impetus behind the creation of a single African market. Also, there is increasing recognition by citizens, corporations and governments of the “interlinked nature of poverty across boundaries” as well as of the need to put gender justice at the centre of eradicating poverty. She points to the growing role played by regional processes (e.g. ECOWAS), continental institutions (AU) and the joint Africa-EU Strategic partnership as “levers for change”. Additionally, we are witnessing the emergence of a vibrant movement of African CSOs and the rise of social media and mobile phone access across the continent.

In terms of women´s empowerment, there has been a wide array of positive developments which provide new opportunities for gender equality. There has been a rise of women in leadership positions (such as Dr. Nkosazana Dhalmini-Zuma in the AU and female presidents in Malawi and Liberia) and emerging continental women´s movements. Women´s empowerment can be further strengthened by the creation of innovative continental campaign initiatives and by using the private sector as a lever for change.

Ms. Charveriat thus gave us practical ideas and examples of how to challenge common perceptions about Africa, leaving us not only with food for thought but a motivation to engage ourselves in efforts to support the rise of Africa.

Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication

Institute for Cultural Diplomacy




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