When I talk about the work of the organization I joined at the beginning of 2021, I always get the same reaction: “So…you are going to talk about human rights to financial institutions?!”
It seems incongruous to put human rights and financial institutions in the same sentence, and even more so to think that the latter should integrate the former in their approach. Why talk to financial institutions about human rights and think that they should listen?
It is because these financial institutions have a development mandate. The most active and oldest in Africa is the African Development Bank, which was created in 1964, amidst high hopes raised by the wave of countries gaining independence. The mission of the Abidjan-based Bank is to reduce poverty and improve the living conditions of Africans.
No matter how one formulates this and through what prism one looks at it, improving living conditions gets down to respecting human rights. And this is exactly why talking about human rights to financial institutions makes absolute sense: it would be foolish to think that the key to poverty reduction is exclusively financial.
I joined the Coalition for Human Rights in Development in February 2021, after spending almost ten years working in the “traditional” human rights field, in organizations where the primary focus of advocacy were the states as signatories and primary duty bearers for the human rights of their citizens. I have had the privilege of working with women and men for whom the respect of human rights was a personal matter.
However, in many contexts – and even more so in the African context – the actors whose actions and decisions influence people’s lives are not necessarily state actors.
The Coalition for Human Rights in Development is a coalition of about 100 organizations worldwide, including about 30 members in Africa; a coalition of social movements, civil society organizations and grassroots groups working together to ensure that development is community-driven and respects, protects and fulfills human rights.
In reality my work has not changed much: the topics are different, the approaches are different, the targets are different, but I still work to ensure human rights are respected. And it is about talking about human rights to institutions that, in some cases, still do not understand their importance. It is about reminding the African Development Bank, for example, that its development agenda has no chance of success if the communities concerned are not consulted, integrated, involved in, and – yes, even leading – in the process of creating projects that impact their lives. This is human rights IN development.
* Tity Agbahey is the Coalition’s Africa Regional Coordinator. If you want to get in touch with her, please drop an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org