Annan scores UN's successes and failures

Less than six weeks before he steps down as Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan has come up with a political scorecard on the successes and failures of the UN’s much-touted development agenda.

The good news is that official development assistance (ODA)—from rich to poor countries—is reaching a new high, breaking through the $100-billion barrier: up from an average of about $50-billion to $55-billion in the 1980s.

But the not-so-good news is that funding for HIV/Aids prevention is still below the targeted $20-billion, falling behind by almost $12-billion.

And worse news, according to Annan, is that global warming is threatening the world’s environmental stability—specifically the African continent, described as “the worst affected” by climate change.

Asked for her response to Annan’s overview, Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the San Francisco-based think tank the Oakland Institute, said that while Western donors have been quick to fund the United States-led war on terrorism, they have been far too slow in their responses to the continuing crisis in Africa, home to 36 of the world’s 50 least-developed countries, described as the poorest of the poor.

She admitted there has been an “unprecedented level of global campaigning” for poverty alleviation over the past few years, especially in 2005, around the Group of Eight (G8) summit—involving the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada and the Russian Federation—in Gleneagles, Scotland.

“The world rocked to ‘Live Aid’ concerts as the G8 leaders agreed to increase aid to developing countries by around $50-billion a year by 2010, double aid to Africa, and to eliminate outstanding debts of the poorest countries,” Mittal said.

She pointed out that foreign aid to Africa fell by 40% during the 1990s and now stands at approximately $12-billion a year. Still, about $70-billion were collected by the US-led coalition force in a matter of weeks to fight the war in Iraq.

So far, she said, the US has spent more than $350-billion in Iraq. Billions of dollars go towards providing weapons to coalition partners in the name of the war on terrorism.

“It will take more than false promises of rich nations to ensure the right of all human beings to live in dignity and free from hunger. It is time to implement an unconditional and non-paternalistic ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa, including 100% debt relief and a boost in Western assistance,” Mittal added.

Key statement

In what was billed as a key statement on development before his departure on December 31, Annan reminded a meeting of the Africa Development Forum in Addis Ababa last week that there is a set of agreed goals—the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—which is supported by all major development actors.

“So we have much to be proud of,” Annan said. “But we cannot for one second be complacent. We have laid a foundation for development, but no more than that.”

He also warned: “We won’t really know whether these achievements count for anything until 10 years from now, when we are able to look back and see whether the MDGs have been achieved; whether prosperity is rising equitably across countries and across regions; whether all girls and boys everywhere are at school, with enough to eat; and prospects of a future with jobs, health, housing and other basic needs supplied.”

“Frankly, the prospects are mixed, at best,” he added, although he was confident that, overall, the world may meet the poverty goal, “thanks to the remarkable progress in Asia”.

The MDGs include a 50% reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; and the reversal of the spread of HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases.

A summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet all of these goals by the year 2015. But their implementation has depended primarily on increased development aid by Western donors.

Annan also told African delegates that as an African secretary general “I have done my best to nurture and build up the relationship between Africa and the United Nations”.

But African governments know all too well that, despite enormous progress in recent years, “we don’t yet have in place the properly structured and equipped UN system that we need”.

Annan said that many Africans find the UN confusing and frustrating to deal with, because it is present in so many different forms, with mandates that either overlap or leave major gaps. “Often you end up having to deal with 10 or even 20 different UN agencies offering support that is neither coordinated nor strategic, nor to scale,” he complained.

Evolving legacy speech

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a development expert from a think tank based in Asia said: “I suspect this is one of Annan’s many adieus, and a first draft of an evolving legacy speech.”

She said the secretary general’s speech was frank, more hard hitting than previous speeches. “It is even touching in parts. It is Africa-centred and looks at development purely from that perspective, which is not what the UN system can be judged upon, let alone his own tenure.

“What bothers me is that in recounting the achievements of his tenure as secretary general, it glosses over all the incoherence in the system and all the scandals and other misdeeds that had become endemic in the system under his watch.”

Talking in terms of money and statistics does not tell the full story, she added, because development everywhere is uneven, prosperity is inequitable and aid, as always, remains unpredictable. “Unfortunately the vision of development as a compact that he speaks of will always be overshadowed by the legacy of an impotent United Nations lacking in legitimacy and credibility and mired in scandal.”

“So I am personally not thrilled about the increases in ODA or promise of more money for the battle against HIV/Aids. The only things I like about his speech is the acceptance of the reality that global warming will make a mockery of all forecasts and that the MDGs need national development strategies and civil society participation to succeed,” said the development expert.

“Neither of this is happening on the ground, so come 2015, you and I may well be talking the same talk. The people walking the walk may have gone a different direction all together!”—IPS

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