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A Long Way Away In Africa

Ibrahim Omer, Labour Party list MP

I was privileged recently to have the opportunity to travel to East Africa where my family and I come from. I was born and grew up in Eritrea fore being drafted into the Eritrean Army, where military conscription is not just for one or two years, but for as long as the Government wants. For many, it is for their entire lives. I knew that I had to escape, so I made the dangerous journey to a refugee camp in Sudan. I arrived in Aotearoa as a refugee in May 2008. Now, I am a proud Kiwi, and an even prouder Member of Parliament.

During the trip, I spent time in Ethiopia, where I met with various United Nations agencies and NGOs where we discussed the current war in northern Ethiopia, one of the most deadly on the planet. I then travelled to Rwanda, to participate in an Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference in Kigali. The IPU is a forum where parliamentary delegations maintain world-wide dialogue, covering a wide range of social and political issues, promoting peace, democracy and sustainable development. This time, the focus was gender equality. I was also excited to meet my parents in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital — the second time I had seen them in 20 years, and the first time since becoming an MP.

Being back in Africa confronted me with the challenges faced by my former home. The world is witnessing significant crises — natural disasters caused by climate change, conflicts, and terrorism. While these are global phenomena, Africa often takes the number one spot in term of the impacts. In the words of Neema Chusi, the head of the Peace and Security Secretariat in the African Union, the continent is “burning”.

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Military conflicts, violence and coups are increasingly common in across Africa. The Tigray conflict in Ethiopia has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and displaced millions. With the Eritrean government’s involvement, this escalated to a regional conflict, but it has received little attention from the international community. Hopefully, a new peace agreement will resolve the civil war in Ethiopia, but conflicts, political instability, and terrorism is again thriving in the continent. Terrorism in Sahara-Sahel regions and Somalia, political instability in Sudan, and the military coup in Mali are just a few examples.

Climate change-induced drought has ripped through East Africa, killing millions of livestock, and most parts of the region have been unable to harvest crops for three years, leaving millions of people exposed to hunger and starvation.

Here in New Zealand, our Government is taking action to reduce emissions, as part of the global effort to tackle climate change. For example, we’re supporting businesses and schools to switch to greener energy, and making it cheaper for families to buy electric vehicles. We are also providing financial support to developing countries, to help them respond to the impacts of climate change too.

New Zealand is far away from the rest of the world. Our isolation helped us to get through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. But it also shields us from many of the challenges and suffering elsewhere in the world. We have our own challenges here at home, and there’s no easy fix for the cost of living, but we’re taking a range of actions to ease the pressure on families. We’ve rolled out our cost of living package, which includes an extension to our fuel tax cut, reduced road user charges and half price public transport until January 2023, permanent half price public transport for Community Service Card. Since the day we came into Government, we’ve worked hard to lift wages and reduce cost pressures on Kiwis, through measures like cheaper doctor’s visits, free lunches in schools, and the family tax credit. There’s no single solution for the pressures people are facing right now, but our changes will help to ease the pressure for families.

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