Ethiopian Social Rehabilitation and Development Fund
Paper from Ethio-Forum 2002 Conference
The African Model Law for the Protection of the Rights of Local Communities, Farmers
and Breeders, and for the Regulation of Access to Biological Resource In Relation to
International Law and Institutions
By Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher
February 14, 2002
The African Model Law for the Protection of the Rights of Local Communities, Farmers and
Breeders and for the Regulation of Access to Biological Resources was inspired by the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and prepared in 1997 by an Organization of African
Unity (OAU) Task Force. The OAU Ministerial Session, followed by the OAU Summit of Heads
of State and Government, adopted this Model Law in Ouagadougou in 1998, and
recommended that it be the basis of African national laws.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA),
which was finally fully negotiated and adopted in November 2001, has now recognized
Farmers’ Rights as those determined by each national law. The OAU, therefore, anticipating
the finalization of the negotiations of ITPGRFA realized that its member states will need to
include Farmers’ Rights, as a subset of Community Rights, in their national laws. It thus
developed the appropriate chapter to go with the Model Law approved in Ouagadougou.
It also became obvious that those OAU member states which are also members of the WTO
need a sui generis law for protecting plant varieties. This sui generis law has to be
consistent with the chapters on Community Rights and on the Regulation of Access to
Biological Resources of the Model Law because these are the chapters adopted in the
Ouagadougou Summit because they are vital for African societies. That made it necessary
for the OAU to develop the chapter of the Model Law on Breeders’ Rights. This enlarged
Model Law was adopted in the July 2001 Summit in Lasaka, Zambia.
Since the Farmers’ Rights chapter of the Model Law is consistent with the Community Rights
chapter, changing it substantially would go counter to the decision of the OAU Summit of
Ouagadougou. Any attempt to improve the Breeders’ Rights chapter of the Model Law can
thus not be allowed to go counter to the essence of the chapters on Community Rights, on
Farmers’ Rights and on the Regulation of Access to Biological Resources of the Model Law.
In a meeting at the AU/OAU Headquarters in Addis Ababa in May 2001, WIPO, UPOV, AFSTA
and OAPI suggested changes to the Model Law. Many of these suggestions were basic and
they would have changed the decisions of the Ouagadougou and Lusaka Summits.
In this paper, the Model Law will be reviewed in the context of the international scene, and
in particular the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and those laws that have emanated
from it, in particular the ITPGRFA and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety; the WTO
Agreements, especially the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual property
Rights (TRIPs); and some of the views expressed by WIPO and UPOV in the May 2001
meeting at the OAU.
2. The Essential Elements of the Model Law that Have Caused Debate
The Model Law has 4 general chapters (on Objectives, Definitions and Scope, Institutional
Arrangements, and Enabling Provision) and 4 specific thematic chapters (on Access to
Biological Resources, Community Rights, Farmers’ Rights and Plant Breeders’ Rights).
The main objective, which is given in its specific components as well, is the conservation and
sustainable use of, and sharing the benefits accruing from, biological resources and
community knowledge and technologies in order to sustain all life support systems. UPOV
maintained that a statement to the effect that incentives for breeders is of importance equal
to the broad aim of sustaining all life support systems should have been part of the main
objective. It obviously cannot be, and their criticism cannot be accepted. Breeding is only
one element in utilization. The recognition and protection of Breeders’ Rights had, however,
already been incorporated in the Model Law as a specific objective (Part I, objectives (b)).
2.2 Definitions and Scope
Terms considered important for understanding the Model Law are defined.
The elements included in the scope are biological resources and their derivatives; community
innovations, practices, knowledge and technologies; local and indigenous communities; plant
breeders; and benefit-sharing.
Traditional systems of access, use and exchange of biological resources, knowledge and
technologies are specifically excluded from the scope. This is to protect these customary
practices from disruption through external interference.
2.3 Access to Biological Resources
This chapter provides for a detailed system of access to, and benefit-sharing from, biological
resources in a manner that ensures their conservation and sustainable use. It makes the
relevant provisions of the CBD (Articles 1, 3, 6, 7, 8(j), 10, 11, 15, 16.1, 16.3, 16.5, 17,
18.4, 19, 20.1) the bases of its provisions in a manner that is considered appropriate for
The provisions of the Model Law which deal with the procedure for granting access are
based on the recognition by the CBD (Articles 3 & 15.1) of the sovereign rights of states
over their biological resources.
The reciprocal relationships between access and benefit-sharing in the Model Law are based
on Articles 15, 16.1, 16.3, 17, 18.4 and 19.1 of the CBD.
Article 15 (iii, iv & v) of the Model Law, which deal with prevention of possible negative
impacts on humans or the environment emanating from the unsustainable or in any other way
inappropriate use of biological resources, are based on Articles 8(g), 8(h), 19.3 and 19.4 of
the CBD and on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Those provisions of the Model Law that regulate access so as to protect biological resources
and the environment, e.g. Articles 8.1(i), 8.1(vii), 8.1(viii), 8.1(ix), 14.1(v), 15, are based on
Articles 1, 3, 10, 11 and 20.1 of the CBD.
Article 9 of the Model Law prohibits the patenting of life forms and biological processes. This
is consistent with the provisions of the CBD.
The CBD was signed in 1992, 2 years before TRIPs. Since awareness on the new GATT
negotiations, and especially on the issue of TRIPs, was virtually non-existent in the South,
the reference to patenting, e.g. in Article 16.2 of the CBD, was not understood by Southern
delegates to apply also to living thing. Judging by the declarations made during the signing
of the CBD, no developing country referred to intellectual property rights in relation to any
living things or even to biotechnology (genetic engineering). It seems, however, that at
least some of the Southern delegations were aware of the effort by the North, through
Article 22, to make the CBD subjugated to the WTO Agreements. This is found in the
declarations of Chile, Columbia and Cuba. On the other hand, the European Union, France,
Ireland, Lichtenstein, Switzerland and the United States of America declared that
biotechnology transfer will occur only under conditions that fully respect intellectual property
rights.1 This shows that, in contrast to developing countries, the industrialized countries
meant the reference to the respect of patents in Article 16.2 to apply to patenting living
things. The whole South believed that patenting in that article referred to machines and
machine parts, e.g. those used in gene banks. There was not even one Southern country
that had laws allowing the patenting of living things.
Since, thanks to slavery and colonialism, all attributable to Western Europe and North
America, technical capacity is low in the South, the North accepts obligations in virtually all
international law to help the South. In the CBD, this figures in many articles, and particularly
in Article 18. What technical assistance can be expected when hood-winking is involved in
the negotiations? If the North really means business, it should lend disinterested capacity to
help the South during the negotiations, not capacity to extract the heart without shedding
blood, as in Shakespear’s Shylock. And patenting living things takes the heart of the rural in
the South, which is essentially rural.
In fact, even at that level of lack of awareness, the Southern delegates negotiated
effectively to create a fall-back position in case they had made mistakes. They fought hard
to retain Article 16.5, which states that patents and other intellectual property protection
systems may go counter to the aims of CBD and that then, Parties have to ensure that this
does not happen. The aims of the CBD are the conservation and sustainable use of
biological diversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits accruing from using it.
Is the patenting of living things supportive of the conservation of biodiversity?
The COP of CBD, in its Decisions II/12, which was made in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1995, III/17,
which was made in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1996 and IV/15, which was made in
Bratislava, Slovak Republic, in 1998, have emphasized the need to study Paragraph 9 of
patents in relation to the aims of the CBD. For example, Paragraph 9 of Decision IV/15
states the issue clearly. “The COP stresses the need to ensure consistency in implementing
the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Trade Organization Agreements,
including the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, with a
view to promoting increased mutual supportiveness and integration of biological diversity
concerns and the protection of intellectual property rights, and invites the World Trade
Organization to consider how to achieve these objectives in the light of Article 16, Paragraph
5, of the Convention, taking into account the planned review of Article 27, Paragraph 3(b) of
the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights in 1999.”
The invitation of the COP of the CBD to WTO to cooperate with it on this and related issues
started in its second meeting as stated in its Decision II/12, and was repeated in Decision
III/17. The invitation in Decision IV/15 is, therefore, the third. The tangible reaction of
WTO in relation to the issue, as clearly presented by Kenya for the African Group in the WTO
Ministerial Conference in Seattle in 1999, was a total refusal to consider it. The result was
the collapse of the Seattle Ministerial Conference of the WTO. Of course, other factors also
contributed to that collapse.
Decision IV/15 of the COP of the CBD is, similarly, a third time statement of the lack of
information to enable a decision as to whether the patenting of life forms and life processes
is harmful in the context of Article 16.5 of the CBD. In a paper I have written2 on Farmers’
Rights, I have shown that, by making the farmer relinquish control of the seed to the patent
holder, patenting crop varieties leads to the expansion of monocultures and thus reduces
agrobiodiversity in agriculture. The issue is complex, and that is why I have treated it in a
separate paper. Therefore, it goes counter to conservation, one of the aims of the CBD. It
also undermines the role farming communities. Article 8(j) of the CBD clearly shows the
indispensable role of local [including farming] communities for the sustainable use of
biodiversity. Therefore, it also goes counter to another aim of the CBD, that of bringing
about of the sustainable use of biological diversity.
There is thus no doubt that patenting life forms and life processes violates Article 16.5 of
the CBD. Africa’s ban of the patenting of living things and life processes in the Model Law
and in the common African position on TRIPs is, therefore, aimed at limiting the damage
ushered in, presumably inadvertently, by TRIPs. That TRIPs is often unfair to the local
communities of the South is internationally well appreciated.3
Those who oppose Africa’s position will, no doubt, refer to Article 22 of the CBD on
relationships with other international conventions which states, “The provisions of this
convention shall not affect the rights and obligations of any contracting party deriving from
any existing international agreement, except where the exercise of those rights and
obligations would cause a serious damage or threat to biological diversity.”
As already explained, when this provision is seen from the CBD as the vantage point,
patenting of life forms and biological process should not be allowed. But, seen from the
vantage point of TRIPs, Article 27.3(b) enables the effective control of the use of, and
hence trade in, some technologies mostly owned by the North. What should a country which
is party to both agreements do? It should decide which of the two is the more valid
instrument for helping it benefit from its biological resources and conserving them for
posterity, for maximizing benefits for its indigenous and local communities. It should also
evaluate the impact of its decision on its economic and social life. TRIPs looks merely at the
trade side when it allows IPR protection, not as to whether this affects the diversity of life
or not. If the IPR protection, by its nature, becomes harmful, obviously there should be no
trade in it, or, if it is at all traded in, that trade should be strictly controlled as is the case
with poisons and armaments: life precedes, and being alive is a precondition, for trade,
whether you are the human being that trades, or the other life forms that are traded.
Africa has banned the patenting of life forms and biological processes because it wants to
keep its people alive and enjoying the diversity of other life forms that they have always
enjoyed living with and living on.
Africa needs to keep its farming communities free to make their own decisions about food
production influenced, of course, by their own governments. It cannot have fought against
colonialism only to surrender the decision of what and how its farmers produce food to the
whim of a distant foreign-based large and, in the local context unwieldy, corporation. The
African Union and all Africans should, therefore, continue to insist that there will be no
patenting of living things or life processes within Africa.
Of all the provisions in the Model Law, it is the rejection of patenting that has upset WIPO,
though they are upset by the Farmers' Rights chapter also in sympathy with UPOV. WIPO’s
annoyance arises, as stated by their representative at the OAU in Addis Ababa on 9-11 May
2001, from the fact that WTO has given them the role to oversee the implementation of
TRIPs. Their representative did not say so, but it is obvious that they see the rejection of
patenting living things as a major attack aimed at destroying their turf. It is a sad comment
on the times that a UN body is upset because the most miserable of the Earth take a tiny
step to protect what is theirs from privatization by the most mighty of the earth!
2.4 Community Rights
The chapter of the Model Law on Community Rights is consistent with Article 8(j) of the CBD,
which recognizes that national law can be used to respect, preserve and maintain
knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities. Article 8(j) also
stipulates that the knowledge, innovations and practices can be used only with the approval
of the communities. It also stipulates that the communities have the right to a fair share of
the benefits arising from the use of their knowledge, innovation and practices. Article 10(c)
of the CBD states that each Contracting Party shall, as appropriate, “Protect and encourage
customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices…,”
thus reinforcing Article 8(j).
Articles 11 and 20.1 of the CBD give states the responsibility to provide incentives for the
conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. When seen together with Articles
8(j) and 10(c), therefore, countries are expected not only to recognize and protect the
rights of local and indigenous communities, but also to give them incentives in order to
encourage them to continue providing humanity with biodiversity and methods of its
Based on these, Decision III/14 of the Third and Decision IV/9 of the Fourth COPs of the CBD
have gone into a lot more detail on how countries should implement the Community Rights
enshrined in Article 8(j) and the other related articles. Paragraph 1 of Decision IV/9, in
particular, has created an “Ad Hoc Open-ended Inter-sessional Working Group" to further the
implementation of these articles. Its functions include, among others, "to provide advice as a
priority on the application and development of legal and other appropriate forms of protection
for the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying
traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity."
The Community Rights chapter of the Model Law has done for Africa what the advice of the
Ad Hoc Committee is expected to do globally. It should be pointed out that the Ad Hoc
Committee has already met and is continuing to meet, and that the African Model Law is one
of the documents available to it.
The central provisions of the Model Law with regards to Community Rights are Article 16(vi),
which recognizes the collective rights of local communities, and Articles 17 and 23.2, which
place the responsibility of determining what constitute those rights upon the local
communities themselves. Many opponents have expressed the view that Community Rights
violate the intellectual property rights provisions of TRIPs. It should be noted, however, that
the 4th Preambular Paragraph of TRIPs states that TRIPs applies only to private rights. What
I think they mean but dare not say is that if Community Rights are legally protected,
individuals will be stopped from appropriating as their own private intellectual properties
technologies that are communally generated. Of course, that is one of the intentions of
protecting Community Rights: private rights should restrict themselves to the realm of the
private, not to that of the community.
2.5 Farmers’ Rights
Article 9 of ITPGRFA puts the responsibility of the legal recognition of Farmers' Rights upon
national legislation. It gives some possible elements that national law could incorporate, but
it leaves the list open ended. These possible elements include: the protection of community
knowledge and technologies, entitlement to the fair share of benefits upon the utilization of
plant genetic resources, the right to participate in decision making and the right to use
It is clear that these elements are consistent with the provisions on Community Rights and
Farmers’ Rights of the Model Law. The open-endedness of the enumeration of the elements
enables Africa to add any other elements it identifies as appropriate for its farming
Of all the chapters of the Model Law, it is that on Farmers' Rights that has upset UPOV the
most as expressed by their representatives in a meeting at the OAU in Addis Ababa on 9-11
May 2001. But their annoyance should then be with the world as a whole since the African
version of Farmers' Rights is fully consistent with Article 9 of the ITPGRFA. I have written
more on the context of and rationale for Farmers’ Rights in another paper.2
2.6 Breeders' Rights
The main aim in the chapter on Breeders' Rights is that of making it consistent with the
chapter on Farmers' Rights. Achieving this aim has been seen by WIPO and UPOV as going
against the UPOV Convention and against TRIPs. But both UPOV and TRIPs deal with private
rights and cannot thus be affected by Community Rights unless what they consider are their
private rights are in fact communal and they have been privatizing them in the absence of
the formal protection of Community Rights. It then becomes a matter of what is redress for
Africa being seen as infringement by them. It then becomes a matter of political will, not of
international law. For Africa, it is a matter of the survival of its communities, its functional
units of society, and it can thus have no option but to muster all its political will to
implement Community Rights.
We all use the word “Development”. We in the South are tantalized by it. Most of us dream
of it as good. Only a few of us are horrified by it and run away from the more “developed”
areas in our countries. Then, even our people call us primitive. Those from the developed
North are proud of development. They tell us that, if we persevere and work as hard as they
have done, we will indeed achieve it. Many of them do not want us to develop because it is
to their advantage if we do not develop. This is because if we fail to develop, we will also fail
to use as much of the resources of the earth as they now consume. They know that, if we
also develop, there will be a serious shortage in most of those resources.
They do not say so, but they act so. The recent rejection by the United States of America
of the Kyoto Protocol because the undeveloped South is not reducing its fossil fuel burning
from its already very low level illustrates this fact. If the United States insists in this, it is
obvious that it wants to prevent us from development.
But what is development? A look at any dictionary will show that the word has many
meanings. I had a look at the Oxford Dictionary, and I think that 2 of the many meanings
apply to our use of the word in the context of the North – South divide. One is the idea of
realizing one's potential fully. The other is that of coming gradually into existence, or into a
visible state. I think that we use both these meanings. The first meaning applies to desirable
individual or social change, and the second to economic growth.
The assumption that makes us want development is that it is positive, that it is an
improvement over our present condition. But is change always positive? Is it always
desirable? For example, the individual can usually be trained to be a killer, or to be a
defender of the weak. Both are potentials. In order to develop do we need to maximize the
expression of both traits? I believe that that potential trait the realization of which we must
maximize is that which will benefit society maximally. Which society do we consider in such
maximization? All? Only the industrial society since that is what we are trying to change our
respective societies into? Or our respective present-day societies? The answers to these
questions are usually confused in our minds when we consider development. In fact, we
usually do not ask these questions.
Examining what is possible for us to do and get might help in answering these questions.
Once we accept that economic development is desirable, the decision of what economy to
develop is determined by the natural resources that exist, and the social development that is
required. When it comes to Africa, we are the best endowed of continents in natural
resources4, though, obviously, some of our countries are less endowed than others and
some, to the extent known, are natural resources poor. Surmounting these imbalances
should not be a serious problem for Africa now that it is transforming itself into a Union.
Therefore, the question of the appropriateness of the growth that will determine economic
development in Africa is that of the capacity of the individual and the society.
The views of development in the South, and, on the whole also in the North, are that it is
linear: the Northerners have developed, we Southerners want to develop, we must follow
their footsteps; even where they have stumbled, we have to accept to stumble.
Assuming that development is linear, we should closely examine the path that the North took
so that we may both shorten the time needed to go along that path, and try to avoid the
excessive pollution, depravation, antagonism, social unrest and other problems that
accompanied its industrialization. We should especially try to avoid the alienation of the
individual and the breakdown of community mutualism.
But, why should we think that development is linear? This view is based on the adaptation
of "biological evolution" to human social development. This line of thinking has been given the
names "biological determinism" or "social Darwinism". A good and concise review of the abuse
that can result from the unwarranted inferring from biological evolution to determine what
individual and social development should be like has been published by Rose, Lewontin and
It is this line of inappropriate evolutionary thinking that gave rise to the Eugenics movement
which advocated the breeding of human beings by selecting the best in order to produce a
better race. The Nazi movement took this thinking to its logical nationalist tragedy. But,
even after Nazism, the philosophy of racial superiority has been extensively pursued,
especially to downgrade Blacks, but to a lesser extent, also others. The argument used by
those who refuse to learn from past tragedy and continue with belief in racial superiority is
that the laws of nature do not bend to accommodate human wishes, that, therefore, they
have to be accepted as they are irrespective of what we perceive subjectively. I entirely
agree with this argument. But the very argument calls for complete objectivity and for the
use of all available information. It also calls for caution. If a theory about bacteria goes
wrong, it will be corrected in due time; the bacteria will take no note of the theory. If a
theory about human superiority-inferiority goes wrong, it will be understood by other humans
and it can cause serious disruptions and wars, as happened, for example, in South Africa
under Apartheid. And, as Rose and his colleagues6 point out, even august professors of
august universities as recently as 1960 e.g. "the eminent zoologist Agassiz [of Harvard
University] claimed that ‘the brain of the Negro is that of the imperfect brain of a seven
months infant in the womb of the white’ ”. Every biologist knows that this is rubbish, that
the brain sizes of all humans are the same7, and that, in any case, the Neanderthal man,
which whites with their brains not bigger than the blacks’ outwitted, outcompeted and
brought to extinction had the same brain size as them8. I cannot resist the temptation to
include a striking quotation on the issue from Rose and his colleagues9, “If biological
determinism [social Darwinism] is a weapons in the struggle between classes, then the
universities are weapons factories."
Capitalism has also used social Darwinism as the justification for the rich getting richer at the
expense of the poor, and, therefore, the North getting richer at the expense of the South.
Rose and his colleagues10 have given a quotation form John D. Rockefeller that expresses
this very well, “The growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest….This is not
an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working out of a law of nature.” Alexander11
has quoted what George Kennan, Chief Planner of the State Department of the United States
of America, said in 1948, just after Nazism got defeated, and just after GATT was fully
negotiated, about the North - South aspect of wealth and poverty. “We have about 50% of
the world's wealth, but only 6.5% of its population .… In this situation, we cannot fail to be
the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in this coming period is to devise a pattern
of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without detriment to
our national security. To do this, we will need to dispense with all sentimentality and
day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate
national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of
altruism and world-benefaction.… We should cease to talk about vague and - for the Far
East - unrealistic objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and
democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power
concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
Socialism, like capitalism and racism, accepts the linear view of development but in a more
precise formulation by Marx and Engels12. In their work, “Feuerbach. Opposition of the
Materialistic and Idealistic Outlook”, they have given us a hierarchical view of development:
tribal, ancient, feudal and capitalist. As can be seen from the many other works of Marx and
Engels, this linear development was going to continue into socialism regulated by a
dictionarial state, followed by a stateless condition: communism. Of all the existing levels
featuring in their linear system of development hierarchy, the local community, which is
presumably what they are calling “tribal”, is the nearest to the mutualism they envisage in
communism13. If their exhortation of Feuerbach14 that "Empirical observation must in each
separate instance bring out empirically and without any mystification and speculation, the
connection of the social and political structure with production," were to be heeded, one
would have dispensed with a state for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and used a
modified community or “tribal” model as the starting point for going towards communism. This
would be the logical step if, as all natural scientists and social scientists avow, they heeded
Occam’s Razor, which states that things or actions should not become more complicated
than they must be. I can imagine socialists and communists saying: "But tribal people have
no specialization of labour, and their organization does not allow its development." Partly
true, but why not try to change community (“tribal”) organization to deviate from its present
nature only to the extent necessary to bring about the required specialization of labour?
After all, appropriately taught and trained starting very early in life, many a tribal child
performs as well as her/his counterpart from an industrialized society. Why take society
through all 5 sets of forceful overthrows of previous systems (tribal to ancient to feudal to
capitalist to socialist ?to communist), when just one transformation, even if difficult, would
do? Occam's Razor would indicate to the world, if it finds communism attractive, to start
from the local community and move across globally to all such communities in order to create
a communist society. It really is counter intuitive to start from the antithesis of a
community, a dictatorial state, even if the dictatorial rule is in the name of the poorest. Of
course, understandably, as history has already shown us, a dictatorship by the poorest ends
up in the style of the mightiest. But then, the socialist (aspiring communist) thinkers that
chose dictatorship as the way to communism were products of the Northern culture, and to
them, local communities were tribal, or at most ancient, and thus irrelevant for the
avant-garde mission of building in the North a new system of mutualism to end all injustice,
including that in the South.
In short, the Northerners who see development as linear are racists who want to leave us
down the line, capitalists who want to justify their disproportionate use of the Earths'
resources, or socialists who accept that we will develop towards becoming like them, but of
course, we have nothing worth contributing to the re-discovery after industrialization of our
despicable tribal form of mutualism.
How about the Southerner who accepts the linear view of development? I think that the
Southern view of the linear nature of development arises both because the Northerners have
said that it is so, and because no Southerners have said otherwise loud enough to be heard
enough. It is time that Southerners intensify thinking and writing about the non-linear nature
of development and about the good traits of even tribal societies that would do credit to
4. Development Is Not Linear
I find it odd that people can think that development has been linear. Each people has its own
language except when colonialism has forced the vanquished to learn the language of the
conqueror; even then, usually, the reverse has been true and the conqueror has ended up
speaking the language of the conquered. Religions are still diverse, though a small number of
them have been expanding at the expense of others. The state structure is still different
from country to country, even among industrialized countries, e.g. United Kingdom, Japan,
France, Germany, United States have their respective unique state structure even if with
commonalities. Among the various civilizations of the world, the differences are even greater.
For example, killing a slave was punishable by death among the Aztecs of pre-Columbus
Mexico, but it was the norm in Europe and post-Columbus America, demonstrably old
Mexico's more powerful counterparts.15
The Ethiopian state had no standing army until the last decade of the 19th century.
Whenever an invasion was attempted from outside, all able bodied people joined the fight.
And yet, Ethiopia effectively warded off attempted Turkish, Egyptian, British and Italian
invasions. In fact, it was in 1935-1940, when Ethiopia had established a standing army, that
an Italian attempt at occupation lasted as long as 5 years.
One could say a lot more about how different societies have made successful attempts at
development starting from the diverse realities within them. One may wonder, however, if
the industrial culture of the North is unique, and if we should thus perhaps imitate Europe,
and in particular England where the industrial revolution took place, if we are to industrialize.
I can only point out that Japan, which is the second most powerful industrialized country,
developed because it consciously chose to adapt and adopt some technological and other
related systems from the European industrial culture, not because it simply aped Western
Europe. The way Japan developed has been covered by many writers, e.g. by Toynbee16
and with even more detail by Hayashi.17 In fact, there is no example of a successful
industrialization through complete imitation.
5. The Course the South, and Specifically Africa, Should Take
For these reasons, the South should stop to expect to develop by imitating the North. It
should start from its local communities: they are its indigenous units of social organization. It
should then adapt and adopt new ways selectively so that the good in its social values is
safeguarded and modified as appropriate, and the technological and commercial skills needed
for development are incorporated, just as happened in Japan16,17. If the South clearly
identifies what its globalized impediments are and what it needs to do about them, the North
should heed and give it the needed political room to protect those of its local socio-political
conditions that are essential for its development but are not yet robust enough to compete
effectively globally. If the North refuses to give the needed leeway, the South should
consider no other choice but to reject the international norms that thus hinder its
development. Otherwise, it will always trail linearly behind the North, handing over its
valuable natural resources as cheap export commodities, never able to add sufficient value
to them to compete effectively globally.
I will now look specifically at Africa in order to be specific about some of the issues and
norms that affect development. At the moment, I cannot do this for the whole South for lack
6. Africa and England
It would be instructive to compare the local communities of England before the industrial
revolution with the commonalities of the diverse African local communities to see what basic
differences exist, and to speculate how these differences can be used to advantage in
Africa's development. This could give an insight as to whether peculiar ancient English local
community traits were essential to produce an industrial revolution, and if so, whether Africa
could learn from them in its efforts to industrialize.
As already pointed out, the socialist thinkers that gave rise to the now failed Soviet
experiment had pointed to the need for us to repeat what the English and other Western
Europeans did to industrialize. Perhaps as a reaction to their socialist rivals, the capitalists of
the 20th century had maintained that their position of advantage was proof of their superior
fitness or even their superior race. For this reason, I decided that it would be less likely to
be deliberately biased by these notions if I read a description of the English local
communities written before the Soviet experiment was started. Therefore, I read a very
instructive book by Green, first published in 1874, though re-issued in 199218 .
The functional unit of organization of the ancient English was, as in Africa, the village. It had
freemen of higher class (eorls) and of lower class (ceorls). The village elderman (ealdorman)
was elected from the higher class. In many African local communities the leadership resides
in a hereditary chief, the lowest level aristocrat in a feudal system; in some others, the
village head is elected. More recently, many a bureaucratizing modem African state,
insensitive to the wishes of its rural people, has started appointing the local community head
and administrative officials. From this comparison, we can conclude that, with respect to
local governance, there is no difference between the ancient English and present day African
Land was inherited in the ancient English local communities only by males. This is the case
now virtually throughout Africa, the modern state having decided so, no doubt, in imitation
of Europe. In the past, in much of Africa, women were co-owners of the right to the use of
land and to other property. The owner was the whole local community. In many African
countries, the colonial administrations extended the chief’s right to coordinate the
management of the community’s land to a right to take it as his own property,19 thereby
disinheriting all the other members of the local community.
Major decisions on what affects the whole English village, e.g. war, murder, were made by
the council of wise men (the witan). This is what gave rise to the modem Parliament. A
similar council is found in virtually all African local communities. African states could
effectively use these councils as local Parliaments. It may already be too late to do that in
many African states because other bodies have already been put in place. But, there must
be a local body that is entrusted with what used to be the responsibility of the council, and
however that local body has been created, it can be modified to become representative. The
responsibilities that the village council used to have should then devolve to it. The fast
development needed if we are to be at par with the rest of the world cannot be expected to
take place without the full participation of the people; and people will participate fully only
when they know that their participation counts.
The English village was clustered around a hill or a holy tree, isolated from neighboring
villages by stretches of forest. Anybody going past the forest and about to enter the village
had to blow a horn. If not, he was killed on sight. On the whole, if there are no topographic
barriers, an African village openly communicates with the outside world. Any visitor is
welcomed. This African tolerance is preferable.
Perhaps it is for this reasons that endogamy at the level of cousins is still allowed among the
English. Exogamy is compulsory in African local communities.
Because of the compulsory exogamy, there rarely are tribes in Africa in the sense that the
local community has a common ancestor. The ancient English were tribal, belonging to
Angles, Saxons and Jutes, each with its own common ancestor. It is ironic that Europe
derogatorily calls Africans identified by common languages "tribes".
These comparisons show that in the treatment of women and of outsiders to the community,
Africa should cherish its more universal community values and retain them into and beyond
It is perhaps because of the inward looking self-identity which fails to notice commonalities
with others that made the invasion by the English when they moved from Northern Germany
to England in the 5th century brutal. The part of Britain occupied by the English was the only
Roman province where the conquered peoples, the Celts, were exterminated. In contrast,
the African local communities are tolerant of others, and even the massacres that have
taken place in Rwanda and Sierra Leone arose largely from interference by external forces.
Africans have indeed often occupied other Africans; but, this has been followed by
miscegenation to produce one people speaking one language and identified by one culture.
Only in a small number of cases have the conquerors retained a distinct identity for more
than one or two generations. This is definitely a trait Africa should maintain into its
Even in the village of clustered dwellings, the family in the ancient English local community
has been self-contained. The people were individualistic, minimizing interaction with
neighbours except, of course, in village-wide matters of common concern. In the words of
Green20, "As every freeman was this own judge and his own legislator, so he was his own
house priest; and the common English worship lay in sacrifice which he offered to the god of
In the African local community, most life activities are communally carried out, and
interaction with everybody in the same vicinity is the norm. This highly individualistic attitude
of the ancient English is probably what gave industrialization a highly personalized focus, why
even groups of people have now to identify themselves as legal persons (individuals) to be
recognized by the industrial legal system. It cannot be argued that industry requires loners
to run it. The reverse would seem to be indicated in that the shop floor requires close
communication among the workers and precise coordination of their activities. A well
developed skill of interaction which community life confers would thus help, not hinder, this
shop floor process. This mutualism among its people is an asset that Africa must carry into
its industrialization. I predict that mutualism will become even more useful in an industrialized
The religion of the ancient English was animist, worshiping gods of air and rain (Woden),
thunder (Thor), peace and fertility (Frea), death (Twi), dawn (Eostre) etc. Such animism is
not very different from what prevailed before colonialism and even still prevails in much of
Africa. In my view, however, there is no intrinsic value in this or any kind of religion in Africa
that makes us consider it as a variable that can influence industrialization. There are also a
number of other similarities and differences which I, at this stage, do not think matters. In
comparing the English and the African local communities, I only wanted to show the positive
African differences. If I have shown this clearly, I will have helped the reader to shift focus
from solely the European society as a template for the future, to her/his own society as the
foundation for the future to be constructed by the local communities themselves.
7. In Defense of the Models Law
The aim of the Model Law is to protect the African local community from predation of its
biodiversity, technology and knowledge, and to foster its development towards an
appropriate industrialization that does not only have economic growth, but also the steady
improvement of the wellbeing of every African as its dictate.
North America and Western Europe developed their industrial base on slavery21 and
colonialism22. They still continue to benefit from Africa's natural resources which they import
as cheap commodities thanks to the colonial machinery of South-North resource extraction
which, even now that Africa is independent, continues to function23.
In all this, the African small-holder farmer, the pastoralist and the gatherer, the member of
the local community, has kept her/his right to decide what to do with her/his agriculture and
other activities that use biological resources, their parts, or components, and how to do
Now, that right is seriously threatened. Spearheaded by the United States of America, the
North has embarked upon patenting living things. The claim to the patentability of living
things is weak, and I have written my arguments as to why it is weak24. Nevertheless, the
compulsory patenting of bacteria, and the optional but usually coerced patenting of varieties
of plants and breeds of animals is enshrined in Article 27.3(b) of TRIPs.
Especially those who have developed new varieties through genetic engineering claim that
they have invented the varieties and, therefore, they must be allowed to patent them. Their
aspiration is to lure the African farmer into using their genetically engineered and patented
varieties and have all her/his farm operations and incomes determined and controlled by
Genetically engineered plants, animals and microorganisms may cause safety problems as
now internationally recognized by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Africa should strictly
regulate the import of genetically engineered varieties, especially of crops with a large local
gene pool. That is why the OAU has developed a Model Law on Bisosafey. Given the coming
into force of the Cartagena Protocol, Africa can thus protect itself against risks to human
and environmental wellbeing.
The more intractable problem is that of protecting the farmers from direct control from
abroad via the seed of a patented variety or of a variety with a patented gene. It is often
argued that nobody will force the farmer into using patented seed or seed with patented
genes. But any gene from a patented variety, or the gene introduced into the patented
variety and used as the reason for the patent, easily gets transferred to any other variety
by natural pollination. Then the unsuspecting farmer will be criminalized as a patent infringer,
as has already happened to Mr. Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer26. That is why, among many
other reasons, that I believe that the acceptance of patenting living things by Africa will kill
the base of livelihood of its local communities. What else has Africa got to use for its
development, or even to develop for? That is why that Article 9 of the African Model Law
prohibits patenting of life forms, parts, components or life process, and that is why WIPO
and UPOV, obviously standing proxy for Northern entrepreneurs, have condemned Africa.
Both WIPO and UPOV also want Africa to accept UPOV, and to have only whatever is left
over from UPOV to be recognized as Community Rights or Farmers’ Rights. Though the
control of farmers that would ensue from UPOV is slightly weaker than that that would ensue
from patents, Africa should continue to insist on Breeders’ Rights being subjugated to
Farmers’ Rights, i.e. only consisting of what is left over from Farmers’ Rights. The whole
world, which has agreed to Article 9 of the ITPGRFA, will be forced to stand by Africa’s side
on this issue.
1. The United States of America introduced domestically the patenting of hybrid
varieties in 1956 and the patenting of genes in 1994. No other country patented any living
thing or life processes until after the creation of the WTO in 1980. Doyle, J., 1985. Altered
Harvest: Agriculture, Genetics and the Fate of the World’s Food Supply, Viking Penguin
Inc.: New York, NY, pp. 300-338, maintains that such patenting was deliberately created so
that United States companies would have a head start on companies from other countries
and dominate the world. It was when the world, especially the countries of the South, were
unaware of this United States design that the recognition of patents in general in the CBD,
and the requirement for patenting bacteria and bacterial biological processes as well as the
recognition of the optional patenting of other life forms and processes in the TRIPs, were
2. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, 2001. “Farmers’ Rights, Food Sovereinty, Life
Patenting and Globalization.” Unpublished.
3. For example, United Nations Development Programme, 2001. Human
Development Report 2001, Oxford University Press: New York, p. 102-108.
4. Any text on economic geology will have this information, e.g. Skinner, B. J.,
1976. Earth Resources, 2nd Edition. Prentice-Hall, Inc: Englewood Cliffs, New
Jersey, USA. The importance of Africa for minerals is well know. But, inspite of the
image of a desert that the North has of Africa, according to Skinner, the highest
potential for hydropower generation is found in Africa, followed by South America.
5. Rose S., R. C. Lewontin and L. J. Kamin, 1990. Not in Our Genes: Biology,
Ideology and Human Nature. Penguin Books Ltd: Harmondsworth, Middlesex. 322 pp.
6. Rose et.al., op.cit., p. 27.
7. Rose et.al., op.ci.t, pp. 51-54 discuss the attempts at attributing intelligence to
differences in brain size or even to physiognomy. They state that the minor differences
observed among males and females in general, and among the dives groups of peoples
in particular, disappear when the differences in body size are taken into account:
bigger bodies require bigger nervous systems.
8. A publication by the British Museum, 1980. Man’s Place in Evolution. British
Museum (Natural History): London, p. 100, gives the brain size of the fossil hominid,
Neanderthal Man, as averaging 1330 ml, and Schwemmler, W., 1989. Symbiogenesis:
A Macro-mechanism of Evolution. Walter de Gruyer: Berlin & New York, p. 158,
gives the range in the size of the human brain as 1250-1600 ml., which is comparable
with that of the Neanderthal Man.
9. Rose et.al., op.cit., p. 30
10. Rose et.al., op.cit., p. 26
11. Alexander T., 1996. Unravelling Global Apartheid: An overview of World
Politics. Polity Press in Association with Blackwell Publishers Limited: Cambridge, U.K.,
12. Marx, K., and F. Engels, 1969. “Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialistic and
Idealist Outlook.” in Selected Works, Vol. I. Progress Publishers: Moscow. p. 16-80.
13. Marx, K., 1969. “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Marx, K., and F. Engels,
op.cit., pp. 98-137.
14. Marx, K., and F. Engels, op.cit., p. 24.
15. Prescott, W., 1994. The History of the Conquest of Mexico. The Folio Society:
London. p. 23. Note that this book was first published in 1843.
16. Toynbee, A. J., 1963. A Study of History, Vol. 8. Oxford University Press: London.
17. Hayashi, T., 1984. “Some lessons from the Japanese Experience of Modernization,”
in M. Nagai (ed.) Development in the Non-Western World, United Nations University:
Tokyo, pp. 87-121.
18. Green, J. R., 1992. A Short History of the English People. The Folio Society:
London. Note that this book was first published in 1874.
19. Sorrenson, M. P. K., 1968. Origins of European Settlement in Kenya, Oxford
University Press: London, pp. 177-179. See also endnote 22.
20. Green, J. R., op. cit., p. 4.
21. Frank, A. G., 1979, in his Dependent Accumulation and Under-development.
Monthly Review Press: New York, pp. 2-26, shows how dependent Western Europe and
later on North America were on Africans taken as slaves to work on plantations in the
New World to trade and accumulate capital to industrialize. This shows the continuing
incredible arrogance of Western Europe and North America that they are still refusing to
apologize to Africans for slavery when they have apologized to the Jews for the
holocaust, and recently, exemplified by the Pope, even to Arabs killed in the crusades
of so long ago!
22. Robinson, R. R., and J. Gallagher, 1965. Africa and the Victorians: the Official
Mind of Imperialism. MacMillan & Co. Ltd: London, pp. 491 gives a good summary of
how the U.K. colonized most of Africa. Frank, A. G., op.cit., shows the importance of
the colonies in the industrialization of Europe.
23. Bedjaoui, M., 1979. Towards a New International Economic Order. UNESCO:
Paris, has shown with much detail and convincing analysis how international law and
institutions still serve the old colonial masters and how unfair they are to the
24. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, 2001. The Inappropriateness of the Patent
System for Life Forms and Process. Third World Network: Penang. pp. 28.
25. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, 2001. “The use of genetically modified crops in
agriculture and food production, and their impacts on the environment - a developing
world perspective.” Submitted to the Conference of the Royal Swedish Academy of
Agriculture and Forestry, on “Genetically Modified Crops – Why? Why not?”,
Stockholm, 14-15 May 2001.
Schmeiser, P., 2001, personal communications. Perey Schmeiser maintains that he planted
non-genetically engineered rape (canola). Pollination from other fields introduced Monsanto’s
Round up Ready Canola genes into his field of rape. Monsanto took him to court for
infringement. In return, he sued Monsanto for contaminating his field. The judge found
Schmeiser guilty, saying that however the genetically engineered gene got into his crop, the
fact that it is there is sufficient guilt on his part! Mad, but that is what comes out of a
combination of patenting a gene or a species, and adhering to Article 34 of TRIPs, which
assumes that the accused is an infringer unless he can prove otherwise. How can any body
prove or disprove that a bee or a butterfly flew from Monsanto’s field to Schmeiser’s? Would
it not make sense to accept what happens in nature as true rather than what TRIPs says?
Which is more likely to be wrong: the law of nature, or the law of industrial man?