On 13 December, alderperson Mr. Freek Ossel represented the Mayor of Amsterdam in naming AWEPA’s Dr. Jeff Balch officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau. Originally from California, USA, Dutch citizen Dr. Balch became involved with the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Via this work he met and in 1988 joined The Association of West European Parliamentarians for Action Against Apartheid (AWEPAA). Twenty five years later as one of its directors Dr. Balch is still representing the vital mission of the now named Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA).
As former Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation and AWEPA member Mr. Bert Koenders said; “AWEPA has given great service in the fight against Apartheid and thereafter in strengthening parliamentary democracy in Africa.” In 1984 AWEPA was founded by former Dutch parliamentarian and Honorary President of AWEPA Dr. Jan Nico Scholten who has worked closely with Dr. Balch since he joined AWEPA. AWEPA’s first mission was to mobilise politicians in democratically elected European parliaments to end apartheid. Very soon Members of Parliament from the European and national parliaments throughout Europe became members of AWEPA growing to the 1800 strong membership of today. For almost 30 years now AWEPA has been a pioneer in implementing parliamentary capacity building programmes in Africa. “Dr. Balch played an invaluable role through these formative years helping to bring AWEPA from an anti-apartheid activist movement to become a unique player on the African stage. His efforts in helping promote democracy, peace, human rights and democratic governance in many African regions stems from a great commitment and belief in the core fundamental mission of AWEPA; that democracy is a vital step in ensuring human rights,” said Minister of State, Ms. Miet Smet, current President of AWEPA.
For many people freedom from Apartheid is something to be learnt about from history books, but for AWEPA and Dr. Balch it was a reality in which they were involved. Even before the end of apartheid AWEPA and Dr. Balch were involved in making of history as they helped in Namibia’s transition to independence. Since then AWEPA has been asked to assist throughout the continent in a kaleidoscope of programmes aimed to strengthen democratization of Africa. Within this Dr. Balch played an important role in AWEPA’s thematic programmes such as in bringing HIV-AIDS onto the political agenda in Africa and Europe, as well as the mainstreaming of gender issues from the role of women in parliament to the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation, and joining this year together with Honorary Chair of AWEPA’s Eminent Advisory Archbishop Desmond Tutu to work to end child marriage in Africa. Dr. Balch is strongly involved in AWEPA’s programme on promoting the importance of the role of parliamentarians in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. He feels strongly about the vital role of parliamentarians in Aid Effectiveness. The transfer of Official Development Assistance from donor country taxpayers to recipient country citizens requires parliamentary oversight on both ends of the aid equation. If the money we donate is going to be effective it needs to be monitored so that the beneficiaries actually get the benefits the money is intended for. This is something Dr. Balch’s experience makes him well equipped to continue to do. “Throughout my years of collaboration with AWEPA, Jeff has provided support of the highest caliber, research at the highest international level and has always been a strong and coherent voice for Africa.“ Brendan Howlin, T.D. (M.P.) Irish Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and former Vice President of AWEPA.