By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
The expectations on the Addis Abeba conference on financing for development (FFD3), to be held from July 13 -16, 2015, are far greater than the international political and economic milieu allows.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has no options but to be optimistic in the circumstances. While I do not discount the possibilities he may have foreseen, I cannot be certain why he says ‘The Addis Ababa conference can be the starting point for a new era of cooperation and global partnership’.
Unfortunately, from my vantage point his optimism is belied by the massive resources gap, nations experienced during the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a problem that might soon beset the sustainable development goals the United Nations General Assembly at its 70th session and the September 25, 2015 summit are to launch, as successor to the MDGs.
Since September 2001, the shift of resources from development to the ‘war on terror’ has given rise to the securitization of development, more and more Western states – starting from the United States – have been mortagaging the interests of peoples in developing nations subordinating their development aspirations to their security interests.
Not only because of that, but there are abundant signs that make the Addis Abeba conference less likely to reach consensus, or the conference to make incremental progress to benefit this vital agenda, which FFD3 is called upon to discuss and deliver at this time.
Moreover, the preparedness of national delegations to agree to give and take in a spirit of multilateral negotiations hardly seems that promising, if at all the years of negotiations on the matter, especially since the Monterrey conference of 2002 down to Doha in 2008 up to the present are taken as indicators.
No doubt, however, the Addis Abeba phase of this segmented negotiations and the conference itself remain very important, organized as it is at the crossroads of events and time, to which for a while now the international development community has shown cautious interests.
If my recollection is correct, the United States was one of the first delegations to engage host country Ethiopia at the earliest preparatory phase, when other nations were not prepared to focus on it, or feel the need. As typical for the Ethiopian media, I reall, we were only made aware of the visit by short shrift informing the exchanges of views only reportedly dealing with the conference. I was only surprised, and remain to this day still in the dark why the US sought to send a high-level delegation at that early stage!
Let me also mention that the United States participated in the Monterrey Conference in Mexico with former President George Bush leading the US delegation. In Doha, in 2008 during the second conference Henrietta Fore, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), led the US into the negotiations.
This time around, in Ethiopia it is reported that Vice President Joe Biden represents the United States; I have taken it as indication of the importance they have attached to the Addis Abeba conference. It is also possible that the US may be aiming to play a more prominent role, in a region that has been vulnerable to man-made and environmental crises worsening its situation. Also keep in mind that the conference is hosted in a subregion constantly facing the threats of terrorism of fundamentalists on one side and violence by unruly states on the other quietly stoking the fires of tension and conflicts in East Africa.
One is also free to assume, if it were not for President Obama visiting Ethiopia already this month, he possibly could have been the highest level United States representative in the conference. Both of them would do as good, as far as the interests of the United States are concerned.
US Ambassador Bisa Williams, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs, is quoted on the Voice of America (VOA) stating what the United States mission would be in this conference:
“What we are going to do here as an international community, is coming to look at how we can work together to create the right kind of policy, to create the right kind of connection between and among sectors, and to share real time experiences about what has worked and what hasn’t worked”.
Importance of the third conference
The Addis Abeba conference is the last important international engagement on development issues, coming as it does before the post-2015 agenda – the MDG successor. It means that, in a sense this conference could be considered a giant chance for international encounter, while at the same time officially marking culmination this month of the 15-year development journey nations have steered via the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
That said, it is important to note that the Addis Abeba conference is practically expected to make huge contributions to a number of international processes in the remaining five months of 2015, especially in terms of resource flows – if it is successful. Come September 25, 2015, the post-2015 development agenda – the new basis for international engagement on development matters – would officially begin its footing on at least the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Secondly, the SDGs would be launched by a three-day United Nations Summit, whose major actors, the states that are heavily involved in it, would be attuned to the conference.
Thirdly, the above two undertakings are interrelated and coincidentally of necessity may induce reflection on the General Assembly’s 70th anniversary how the United Nations should make itself more relevant in the phase of speedily changing world and technological reality to be able to give effect to the aspirations of peoples and nations for national, regional and global development. It should escape no one’s attention that, despite the hoopla about development and poverty reduction, we live in a world that has become more unequal and increasingly non-inclusive than before.
Growing up, I have witnessed in my own country many things – the good and intolerable – that have made me admire Western governance and their respect for the individual citizen and the advocacy of their peoples to see also our governments in developing countries respected our rights. In spite of our youthful interests in alternative forms of life to capitalism, I must admit, our hearts flirted with what America represented – human freedom and independence.
It is unfortunate that today the US stands to the right of the Chinese Communist Party on the question of democracy and human rights, especially in Ethiopia and elsewhere.
I have never understood until recently, why the West should abandon its potent weapons that have endeared it to the world – liberty, human rights and the defense of human dignity around the world. They kept it well in the post-war world and above the fallen USSR! It appears now that the West seems to prefer to ‘sleep with the enemy’ – notorious dictators, the enemies of freedom and liberty – even as some of the states become terrorists and agents of atrocities at mass scale.
It never escaped my attention that, for instance, the United Kingdom’s country framework agreement defined the approach of Ethiopia under the TPLF regime in DFID’s Operational Plan for 2011-2015 in a manner that explains it hereunder, as much similar to what I am trying to state here:
“The Government of Ethiopia (GoE) is capable and committed to growth and development and is a proven partner in making rapid progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But its approach to political governance presents both substantive challenges to sustainable development and reputational risks to partners.”
I am not sure whether the subsequent transformation of the UK policies especially in the past four years is the newest mutation, or political regression, driven by economic interests and/or the burgeoning of the security component in their relations – a genre of the securitization of development!
FFD3 is tough, baptism by fire for its officers
It is evident from the foregoing, therefore, that those unflinching positions of nations coming to Addis Abeba for the FFD3 are likely to make the conference a baptism by fire for the presiding conference officers. That is why it would prove one of the most difficult international engagements on development issues. There are far wider irreconcilable positions, capable of becoming politically flammable and threatening to harden multilateral cooperation of nations as practiced by states for generations, if what was last witnessed in autumn 2014 in New York is taken as evidence.
Not only that the Addis Abeba conference suffers huge gaps in official positions of delegations, as seen in the conference’s present final document. But also signals have been beaming all along from New York, following the conclusion of the two week-long United Nations substantive informal sessions in October and December 2014, which have sufficiently highlighted lots of difficulties.
At the heart of the problem lies the fact that the Group of 77 and China on one side are urging more support from developed countries – the former’s historical impediments, experiences and levels of development being the rationale. They are thus firmly wedded to their position of demanding the developed world to go beyond words and provide both increases in the traditional Official Development Assistance (ODAs), concessional finance and delivery of additional financing for climate and biodiversity, based on outcome of the negotiations in Addis Abeba.
That has come as a tall order for the counterparts.
While reference to Official Development Assistance (ODA) has been made 26 times in the final document, its operationalization has come in more concrete form only once. It reiterates the longstanding position that the use of such resources is reserved to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) – even as its level declines or is subject to cuts in a number of countries in the face of falling growths and shrinking economies.
The rest of its mentioning are old iterations in different ways, reflecting past demands and reminders on the part of the Group of 77 and China, an indication of how what has been demanded has already been shot before the official conversations have begun.
Furthermore, the donor spirit seems to state in the many negotiations outcome documents their understanding of what poor and developing nations must and should carry out in their policies and structures to overcome their difficulties. Consequently, the official document stresses in the following words that the problems of these countries could be solved:
“[T]hrough strengthening public policies, regulatory frameworks and finance at all levels, unlocking the transformative potential of people and the private sector, and incentivizing changes in financing as well as consumption and production patterns to support sustainable development. We recognize that appropriate incentives, strengthening national and international policy environments and regulatory frameworks and their coherence, harnessing the potential of science, technology and innovation, closing technology gaps and scaling up capacity-building at all levels are essential for the shift towards sustainable development and poverty eradication. We reaffirm the importance of freedom, human rights, and national sovereignty, good governance, rule of law, peace and security, combating corruption at all levels and in all its forms, and effective, accountable and inclusive democratic institutions at the subnational, national and international levels as central to enabling the effective, efficient and transparent mobilization and use of resources.”
At the same time, a summation by the president of the General Assembly at its 69th session in one of the conference’s official documents (A/CONF.227/3), details discussions from last autumn and tasks the Addis Abeba conference to seek ways to come up with agreed upon positions and recommendations to the General Assembly at its 70th session in September. This is because of the much-needed inputs that would go into the post-2015 agenda for adoption by the summit of heads of state and government of member states in late September in New York.
Here is the content and manner the requests are addressed to FFD3:
(a) Addressing “both the unfinished business of the Monterrey Consensus and Doha Declaration on Financing for development, as well as new and emerging challenges”;
(b) Underlining the crucial importance of the mobilization and effective use of all financing sources in support of sustainable development, including national and international, public, private and blended financing flows. All sources will have to complement each other. Official development assistance (ODA) would remain critical and relevant, but would not be sufficient given the magnitude of the agenda;
(c) The comprehensive vision of sustainable development articulated in the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, focusing on the eradication of poverty and integration of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and the proposal for sustainable development goals, would all be taken into account in the preparations for the Addis Ababa Conference;
(d) The Addis Ababa Conference should be “Monterrey plus”. It would feature new elements, including sustainability and universality. In this regard, financing gaps in important areas for sustainable development, such as infrastructure, small and medium-sized enterprises, innovation and clean technologies, had been stressed.
Key for the success of the Addis Abeba efforts of delegations is the consensus that the conference needs to reach, since its input to the post-MDG undertakings by the international community depends on the pledges and promises of resources to be made available to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) on a multi-year basis and other policy measures also.
Member states understand that the Septemeber 25-27 summit would interactively discuss the following six agenda items for the negotiations under the overarching theme of “Transforming the world: realizing the post-2015 development agenda”:
(a) Ending poverty and hunger;
(b) Tackling inequalities, empowering women and girls and leaving no one behind;
(c) Fostering sustainable economic growth, transformation and promoting sustainable
consumption and production;
(d) Protecting our planet and combatting climate change;
(e) Building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions to achieve sustainable
(f) Delivering on a revitalised Global Partnership
If the Addis Abeba conference succeeds, it would jubilantly mark a strong and positive foot forward for sustainable development goals, its essential features reflecting the above. If not, it means that securitization of development has taken hold.
As stated above, not only would that cause resource leakage. But also encourages heavy-handedness of the many US clientele states in Africa, including Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, etc., to continue to engage in widespread disregard of human rights and human development. Already their repressive policies have denied development of its true meaning: freedom and liberty, human welfare and security free from state inspired human insecurity.
Sadly, this has also regressively changed the nature and purpose of foreign aid, its assistance being used as mechanism to stabilize client states rejected by their own citizens!
I remember from a conference organized by the Open Society in May 2012, whose theme was Money, Power and Sex: the Paradox of Unequal Growth”, Thandika Mkandawire, professor of African development at the London School of Economics, telling delegates that Africa needs to mobilize its domestic resources.
He rightly reminded participants in the conference that if African countries continued to rely on external funding, they would be turned into “choice-less democracies”, since dependency on foreign aid means that political and economic agendas are partially set overseas.
*This article has been updated.