Break from the past to develop

The annual ritual at the United Nations General Assembly has ended. The various potentates and their delegations have returned home. It is once again business as usual at the UN. The UN General assembly has over the years come to be associated with several things.

The annual ritual at the United Nations General Assembly has ended. The various potentates and their delegations have returned home. It is once again business as usual at the UN.

The UN General assembly has over the years come to be associated with several things. It provides a splendid mix of serious debate, drama and circus. It is also remarkable for its wonderful attraction of different sorts of world leaders.

You get those who are seriously concerned about the world’s problems and genuinely want to fix them. You also have the mavericks, eccentrics and show-offs who want to use the world stage and limelight it offers to lecture the world on some pet subject - whether they believe it or want to use it to grab the world’s attention.

In the past we had Cuba’s Fidel Castro with his several hour-long speeches extolling the virtues of socialism and denouncing the vices of the capitalist world.

Or you had Muammar Gadhafi taking over part of New York City and turning it into a Bedouin village, complete with tents and all. In recent times, two men have been competing for notoriety rights.

There is Venezuela’s controversy-seeking Hugo Chavez, who regards himself as Fidel Castro’s natural successor. Then there is Ahmedinejab of Iran who prides himself as the only guy brave enough to stand up to the bullying of the United States. In the process he peddles such dangerous ideas as claiming that the holocaust is a myth and calling for the destruction of Israel.

He was at it again last week, accusing the United States of having staged the 9/11 destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre that cost the lives of about 3000 people.

Then there are those who come to the annual event, mumble ritualistic refrains about the perennial issues and then depart without trace of their attendance.

Sometimes, however, away from the posturing and grandstanding, some serious work gets done and some of the world’s real questions get addressed. Such was the case with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in which our own President Paul Kagame has a leading role.

There have been mixed reactions to the MDGs, especially as regards Africa. The varying reactions reveal different attitudes about Africa and its development. On the one hand you have the optimists who say that the MDGs are attainable and Africa can do it, that it is in fact on course.

On the other, you have those who are dismissive and say that Africa can’t do it in spite of all the best will in the world.

The more optimistic point to the achievements made so far in a number of African countries as proof that the MDGs are indeed attainable. They go further and hold this as a successful model of development.

The dismissive and sceptical represent a paternalistic attitude of the old school of development. They regard Africans as inherently inept and prone to corruption, and therefore aid money from the richer countries will not be put to the use for which it was obtained and so the goals will not be met. And there is a sense in which they are right.

The optimistic attitude is the very antithesis of this. For them the MDGs are the very minimum base for development and are attainable, and therefore sustainable development is possible. But there are certain conditions for this new development approach to be effective as African leaders affirmed in Kigali in early September.

First, where there is strong political will and leadership at all levels, with a clear vision and commitment to the goals, success has been registered.

Second, programmes for the attainment of the goals must be owned by the governments which have to implement them. This is in direct contrast to the past where such programmes were designed, dictated and directed by the donors.

Third, is the recognition that people are a development asset and active agents, not a group for whom something is done without their participation.

Fourth, for the desired transformation to take place there must be enough resources. The difference between what works and what does not lies in how we look at the source of the resources. If we wait for them to come from the outside alone, nothing will happen. If there is internal mobilisation of resources in addition to what is raised externally, then progress will happen.

Finally, there must be genuine partnership, not the traditional donor-recipient relationship with all that it entailed.

President Kagame summed it up very well when he addressed the MDG summit in New York last week. He said success depended on “empowering communities to take various issues of development into their own hands through devolution of decision-making and resources.”

He went on to argue, as he has so often done, that we owe our development to ourselves and will drive it ourselves. Assistance may come, but only to support our efforts.

“We can no longer rely on the goodwill of other nations. We must assume effective leadership, take full ownership of the development of our countries and truly deliver for our people.”, he advised.

Where the above conditions prevail, whether it is in Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana or elsewhere, progress has been made. Yes, the UN can be a frustrating organisation, but sometimes good comes out of it. The optimism about Africa getting out of the rut is not misplaced.

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