What should be the role of a renewed global partnership for development in a post-2015 setting?

Published By UNNGOF |  June 24, 2014

Presented at the UN Development Cooperation Forum High-level Symposium
Theme: ‘Preparing for the 2014 Development Cooperation Forum’ – “A renewed global partnership for development for a post-2015 era”
6th – 7th June 2013
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Conference Centre, UN Economic Commission for Africa
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

By Richard Ssewakiryanga
Executive Director and Global Co Chair CSO Partnership for Effective Development
Uganda National NGO Forum

At a recent event on climate change civil society organizations that were discussing the Post2015 agenda, the facilitator Nisha Pillai of the BBC introduced a new formulation of the Post2015 menu of option. She categorized them into three as: as the Christmas tree option, Bulls-eye option and the jigsaw option. In the Christmas tree option is about adding more and more priorities on the already heavy laden tree of priorities and hope that we shall achieve all them. What we end up with is too many priorities that are messy and sometimes hard to comprehend. In the Bull’s eye option we go for few selected and targeted areas of support. Here the priority is on getting it right – for instance working to eliminate poverty and while staying silent about the consumption patterns of the rich. The last option is the jigsaw puzzle option. Here we concentrate on the inter-linkages between different sectors and dimensions of development and try to establish how they can work together to create sustainable solutions. The notion of global partnerships over the years has straddled these three different options to development. But one thing for sure is that in all circumstances the preoccupation was to try and do something better for humanity. With all the dismal results of global partnerships for development over the decades, we cannot fault them for their good intentions.

But on the second question of what we have learnt – I would like to offer the following lessons:

  1. Global Partnerships for Development should be about global solidarity: The history of development planning and cooperation over the years has been a history of asymmetrical power relations with the north-south divide as an enduring form of understanding how world is structured. Today it is becoming clearer to all of us that the problems in one part of the world are problems for all of us. If there is nothing we have learnt from the climate change movement – at least one lesson that we can relate to is that the world is interconnected and interlinked. So to solve climate problems we need better forms of negotiations that value different people from different ecosystems that make up the global ecosystem. In order for us to then be able to have a conversation around the global ecosystem we need to have a relationship of global solidarity that sees each one of us a citizens of a world that we have to build together. This does not imply abandoning our different identities and our political positions but it implies that to shape a better world is not about cutting out a pie from a cake that is not baked but it is about baking a cake together and having a pie.
  2. Our faith in goals is limited faith: While we have celebrated the MDGs as important drivers on the road to transformation – we also know that the MDGs have got an inherent limitation. Like all goals, they are scored, they imply winners and losers, they are short term and they can lead to an attitude of the end justify the means. While at the same time we know that the world is differently structured, the world is about finding ways in which we can build a transformative world which is not goal-centric or goal driven. This is a reality we have to embrace going forward.
  3. Development is more about jigsaw puzzles than bulls-eye target or Christmas trees: The inter-linkages between different sectors that seem to be so far apart is now clear. The fact that we are focusing on governance and political questions within the context of development makes this point clear. We now know that how countries are governed has a lot to do with how development is delivered. There could be a few countries that can endure bad governance and enjoy development but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. We also know that building institutions in a manner that is sustainable is important in building strong states. That is why for example Belgium can run for over a year without a political leader and yet service delivery will not come to halt. I invite you to think of what would happen to Uganda if we did not have a President even for one month or many of other countries on the continent. Building institutions is therefore serious development business built on recognizing inter-linkages.
  4. Citizen Voices and the Need to Listen: I will use the words of my good friend Jay Naidoo, former Minister of Communication of South Africa and Trade Union Activist who wrote in the preface for the Civicus State of Civil Society Report 2012 that; ‘Citizens always know better than the government or the market what works for them. The question is whether our political and economic elites are prepared to listen’. One of the new skills that development actors need to build going forward is listening. We need to listen to; the noise of citizen in protests; to the silence of citizens in jails, abused citizens in shipping containers or boats of migrant laborers crossing from Africa to Europe or Latin America to North America, mothers in pain in hospitals dying from preventable causes or children under bushes and thickets in countries experiencing brutal wars. For example, the High Level Panel did meet and listen to over 5000 civil society organizations and over 250 CEOs of private sector companies – but what did they hear and how did it change their lives? This is a question that is easy to pose for a panel of ‘eminent’ persons’ but it is also a question for all of us working in development. Yes in the last one week we are all running heads over heals try to write a ‘response’ to the High Level Panel Report [I have counted 15 statements in the first 5 days of releasing the report] and hope that this will create change. If the panel listened to 5000 of us, then why should we think it is important for us to again write to the panel – was the listening not sufficient? Let us challenge ourselves to listen. If we look outside our meeting rooms we realize the number of strikes, demonstrations and violent conflicts in the last 2 years point to the need to all decision makers to listen and learn from our citizens.
  5. It is time to build alternative models: I was reminded yesterday by a colleague about a discussion we heard as civil society in the lead up to Busan high level forum. We discussed that one thing that could be innovative and path breaking and initiate new discussions on development could be a Convention on Global Development Cooperation. Maybe the time has come that other than us trying to create new goals, new targets and other tired strategies; maybe we should create a Convention. The time to think outside and away from the box is now and this is an idea for us to ponder.

I want to conclude by quoting a colleague from UNDP who gave us this analogy – that on the beaches of South Africa sardines annually are swept onto the shores and they die in millions. But one day two small boys playing on the beach had a different attitude to this phenomenon. One boy decided to throw back into the sea as many sardines as he could to save lives. The other boy was impatient thinking his friend was wasting time. He called him and assured him that his efforts were futile – there were millions dying and he is just saving a handful. The boy saving the sardines asked; if you asked one of the saved sardines would the one saved sardine think I am wasting time? Ladies and gentlemen – that is the dose of optimism and can-do attitude that we need as we tackle the global partnership agenda post2015.

I thank you for listening!