We advocate for poverty free world; Says National Coordinator of Activista-Gambia

With Madiba Singhateh

In this edition of ‘Future Generation’, we were able to meet with the National Mr. Muhammed Lamin Saidykhancoordinator of the much talked about Activista Network Mr. Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan.
Activista is Action-Aid’s global youth network, a network which exists in 28 countries around the world.The National coordinator, Mr. Muhammed Lamin Sadykhan, said that Activista network aims to empower young people to advocate for a poverty free world, and also empower young people to participate actively in decision- making and political processes that affect their lives. So he said any issue that relates to poverty is part of their agenda and they work towards eradicating it, or empowering people to really know their rights and then enjoin duty bearers to change the status quo of poverty that people are living in. He said the Gambia is one of those networks. He said before they fully became a network, it was a pilot project under Action-Aid; that Action Aid started engaging young people in campaigns, famous campaign called hunger free campaign around 2008-2009 . He said around 2010 they realized that this network should be strengthened and established and should run effectively and carry out things that young people really need to work on or address relating to poverty issues in the world. ‘The Gambia Programme has been part of that for quite long. He said there is a network that Action-Aid was supporting before called AICAH. He said AICAH is an African youth coalition against hunger. So when this Programme came in to engage young people into campaigns, they decided to merge the two networks and called it Activista. “So the Gambia network has been doing a series of activities and the network actually brings youth organizations and school networks, tertiary institutions and their unions in high schools and junior secondary schools, to work with our own clubs, established about 42 clubs in about 42 schools  around the country,” said Mr. Muhammed Lamin Saidykhan.

‘In those networks or schools, or groups that we work with, we empower them on advocacy, campaign leadership, social media and issues around budget processing,  policy analysis and change of the status quo, face the duty bearers to really make Gambia a better place in terms of poverty eradication. We do a lot of advocacy at National level,’ he informs.
On membership, he said their groups are concerned youth organizations on National level, youth organizations at regional levels, school networks at school levels,  school clubs and members of tertiary institutions and even individual activists are all members and they all can attend to register. He said for the new intakes, they want to strengthen their work by working more with youth groups and school networks and school unions to really strengthen their work, and serve more people working directly with key individuals.
The National coordinator cited one of the key objectives of Activista which is to empower young people to actively participate in decision-making and political processes that affect their lives. In that he said they have  what they call pillars of Activista and one of the key pillars is capacity building; that they want to capacitise people at National and International levels.

At National level, he said they organize annual national training  or TOT and they train around 40 people to become trainers and they do trainings at the group levels, regional levels and even at International  level; that they send people out to go and learn how to become very powerful campaigners and to do long term courses of campaign. Another aim of Activista is that they want to build a Platform for young people to participate in political and decision making processes that impact on their lives and how they can contribute to poverty alleviation through putting their powers together and their objectives as shared learning. ‘Young people are doing lots of work in the world and we need to share what we are doing so we want to use social media to really share what we are doing and also create a platform where young people come together and share what we are doing, the best practices and the challenges and come up with solutions, or a way forward in terms of how to eradicate or address poverty issues that affect the young people, ‘he emphasized.
He said annually they organize annual events where young people come together and share challenges they are facing in the Gambia and beyond. Social media is also a strong component that they use in their work, both Facebook and Twitter, which, he said, have been very strong and which they update on a daily basis.

The other part which is very important and key to their work, he said, is to map out risks around advocacy work. We really capacitise young people to come up with issues that are affecting them agrassroots levels, the community levels and national levels. “We campaign around those issues. So Activista in the Gambia is well known for advocacy in the country. We run three successful campaigns since the establishment of the network. One was hunger free campaign,” he said.

On hunger free campaign, he said what they are aiming at
is to challenge the Government and the National Assembly to increase the agriculture budget; that when they were starting the campaign, the budget was around 3percent, but that their advocacy helped them to move the national assembly and encouraged the Government to increase the budget allocation for agriculture to 7percent now, ‘he said.
According to Saidykhan, Activista Coordinator, the other advocacy Programme that they are working on in the past years was reclaiming of land, empowering woman farmers to have equal access and ownership of land like wise men, that they demanded land to be given to people who want to cultivate crops and feed the people.“There is a lot of injustice around the country, like some people have serious difficulty to have land. So we go round normally to empower people to fight for their own land in an area at Bakadagi. Some women farmers’ group whose lands are taken away from them by the local authorities, we advocate and empower those people to reclaim their lands back. Hundreds of hectares have been taken away from them, but now they have reclaimed those lands back and are doing very intensive farming and feeding many  families in those areas,”he opined. Saidykhan said: ‘We also empower a lot of people around the country to understand that women equally have right to inherit land like men, as in religion where it says there should be percentage given to women when their parents pass away, that have been coming forth in terms of land or land inheritance. We also hear that those women are not entitled to land. We challenge those authorities and demand that women have access to land. The last campaign that we have just concluded with the American Embassy is called ‘Right to Food’ campaign, the right to food campaign was meant to help everyone to have right to food; that is our responsibility, collective responsibility of the Government to make sure everyone in the country has right and access to food. But how can that happen when farmers are complaining of challenges in their farming activities?,” asked Activista coordinator.

He said their campaign has three phases; the first one would be to engage Area Councils to talk about the challenges in their regions. He said in the discussions farmers would make demands to the authorities. He also said one key demand farmers would make would that at least 10 percent of the local council funds be utilised for farming activities and that promise has been by all the Area Councils. He expressed hope that it is implemented by all of them.

Activista Coordinator then took the Columnist to what he called their next ladder which is to take the minutes of those meetings to Governors and demand them to endorse them in their regions. And endorsements have been made in those regions and Governors have also pledged their allocations at the regional levels and demands at national level to increase budget allocations. He said from Governors’ meetings they would bring the councilors, farmers, the MPs and the people elected at national levels to sit together and discuss the issues of farming in the country. He said they would demand to increase the allocation to really meet what government has promised in 2003 which is called the ‘Maputo Agreement’ i.e. that African Governments would give at least 10 percent of their budget allocations to agriculture. He added that 15 percent has been the maximum countries should do, but only few countries have met that requirement. So he said they demand our countries to really try and fulfill their pledges and make contributions they promise to their people.

To be continued