Governments:Custodians of the Moment

Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, the recently appointed assistant administrator and director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, says development goals are not going to see the light of the day if governments do not hear the voice of the people. He came to this position after serving as a Chief of Staff and Director of the UNDP’s Executive Office, and replaces the Ethiopian, Tegegnwork Getu.

Dieye is an old hand in the UN system. He was deputy assistant administrator and deputy regional director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States in New York, overseeing UNDP programme portfolios in the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Gulf Countries. For the three years prior to 2006, Dieye served as the deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General in the UN Operations in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), followed by appointments as UN resident coordinator, UN Designated official for Security, Humanitarian coordinator and UNDP resident representative in the country.

Senegalese and a father of four, Dieye graduated from the French elite school, École Nationale de la Statistique et de l’Administration Économique (ENSAE-CESD), at the Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Economiques (INSEE). He also studied Advanced & Specialised Mathematics in France and holds a postgraduate degree in development studies, economic policy and planning from the Institute of Social Studies, in The Netherlands.

In this interview with TAMRAT G.GIORGIS, MANAGING EDITOR, Dieye argues that although African states have the AU with all the agencies and infrastructure necessary to respond to their development needs, the UNDP should maintain a presence on the continent as it helps to translate development policies on the ground through subsidiaries, which are not existent in the AU.




FORTUNE: UN’s flagship program, the millennium development goals (MDGs), is set to expire next year. I want to pick up on your thoughts about whether it has realised its objectives.

Abdoulaye Mar Dieye: The MDGs have been quite seminal in moving forward the development agenda in the world, in general, and in Africa, in particular. But, unfortunately, come December 2015, what we want to write is not the closing of the MDGs.

It means for us that we are pushing beyond 2015. For Africa, it is extremely critical. The impressive course we have been on for the last decade has impacted on the implementation of the MDGs; but, not sufficiently. If you take, for instance, the goal on poverty reduction, we will miss it. If the trends continue, we will only reach it 16 years later, which means we have to enhance the MDGs’ acceleration.

We are advocating that the post-2015 agenda does not drop the MDGs. We have to be at the centre. That is the philosophy that we are promoting at the UNDP.

Q: My understanding is that there will be something like MDG+ after 2015.

People call them MDG+, but that is to mean the MDGs symphony must continue. Most likely, we will have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But at the heart of the SDGs will be the cultivation of the MDGs.

Q: How and when will that discussion take place? Is that prior to 2015?

It has already started. In many ways, we have had some national consultations. In Africa, we have 33 national consultations and, in Addis Abeba, we have had one, which was one of the most seminal consultations. We want to give a voice to the people. The MDGs were shaped in an intergovernmental fashion. That has been one of the binding constraints to implementing them, because people did not feel a great adherence to them. The post-2015 consultations have been given to the people to speak up. The major message coming from the people is that they want their voices heard and to hold governments accountable.

What is also seminal to put on the table is that African leaders have their own versions, which have been approved during the AU Summit.

Q: You have mentioned three phrases here, sustainable development, voices of the people and accountability to governments. One way of doing that is the creation of domestic civil society. But there is also the other side of the story, where governments are complaining of NGOs being used as instruments to foreign powers and that they have also created a dependency in society. How do you see the evolution of the position NGOs occupy in the SDGs era?

Let me qualify by saying that when I say the voices of the people, I do not mean the NGOs. I mean the citizens. What is known as the Arab Spring is the voice of the people. It is beyond the NGOs. If we do not hear the voice of the people, whatever we do for development will be to no avail. For instance, we are talking about the demographic dividend. It can be a demographic bomb if you do not deal with the people and fail to give them employment and leadership. That is what I mean by voices of the people.

NGOs are critical development actors. They need space. They were not really included in the Millennium Declaration in 2000. I think there is value in including them in shaping the post-2015 development agenda.

Q: Let me take you to a recent report by UNDP, which alarms that inequality, which undermines the very foundation of development and social coherence and domestic peace, may be growing. I am wondering what prompted the UNDP to come to that conclusion.

Two things. Inequality is bad for economic development as all our models show. The countries that have better equality tend also to have stronger economic growth. But the most alarming thing is what we call horizontal inequalities. When regions, ethnic or social, are excluded from the development process and countries failingly eclipse the crisis. What is taking place in the Central African Republics (CAR) or Côte d’Ivoire epitomises this exclusion.

Inequalities, be they economic or horizontal – excluding the goods of the people or regions – can be very damaging to the development process.

Q: One of the objectives of the UNDP is to prevent conflict. But despite your presence in several African countries, conflicts continue to emerge. We can take South Sudan and the CAR as recent examples. Isn’t that frustrating to you, because whatever you do is seemingly in vain?

No, I would not say so. If you look at it in a prospective manner, over time it is easy to realise that the frequency and intensity of conflicts has reduced in Africa. From Liberia to Serra Leone to Côte d’Ivoire, you name them. That is one of the factors prompting economic growth. Of course, it is unfortunate that we still have problems of security in the Sahel, the Great Lakes, the Horn of Africa and now in the CAR.

What we see in South Sudan and the CAR is frustrating. But that has never deterred us from doing the work we do. It would be more damaging if we simply sat back and watched it. Whenever we have a crisis, the UNDP is the last one to evacuate. That is because we have to work through government institutions for the benefit of the people.

Q: Let me come to the UNDP itself. Your critics describe the UNDP as one of the organisations lacking creativity, being overly bureaucratic and filled with staff that are basically complacent in whatever they do. Obviously, you would not agree with that, but do you see merits in these criticisms?

I do not see merits, but I see it as a way of further inspiring us in what we do. Criticism is not necessarily to be taken in a negative fashion. It can be an encouragement for you to do better. Ultimately, the judges are the people and the governments. I can tell you that when I look at the assessments we are receiving, the UNDP is one of the highest regarded.

Q: But you have also a record whereby your representatives tend to appease governments at the expense of basic issues, such as democratic and human rights.

The role of the UNDP is to focus on development. In most of the countries, our UNDP resident representatives are also the resident and humanitarian coordinators. I agree with you that the function of the humanitarian coordinator is to ring the bell. I was the resident coordinator, resident representative and then humanitarian coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire at an extremely volatile time. But you have to strike a balance.

As a resident representative, you have to push for development, but as a humanitarian coordinator, you have to ring the bell. But that is not an easy task. Some of our representatives have been declared persona non-grata (PNG). It happened in Gambia at one time, when our representative made a statement saying that – “What we are doing here is helping people in the process of development and I raise the red card”. And he was fired.

But overall, people on the ground are bold enough to speak up. It is an art to do so, because we do not want to offend governments. As a result, we use our touch and way of pushing people. There is not an easy science as to how you can have this optimal mix to push government support and how you can give space for peoples’ voices.

Q: But the UNDP’s preoccupation seems to be in fighting poverty and hunger. The disappointment is that it seems to focus a lot more on these two areas and less on preventing violence, one of its three pillar rationale for its existence.

You are right. Our focus is more on development, but we also work more with other agencies with the ‘political’ mission of preventing conflict. Our way of preventing conflict is to invest on national reconciliation, having a joint vision and deescalating conflicts when they happen.

Q: But my question is that isn’t it because of the increasing voice of criticism of the UN system in general, after the experiences in Rwanda and Sri Lanka, that the UN felt obliged to respond to such criticisms by introducing “Rights Upfront”?

Again, criticism is not bad. What matters is when you think there is valid criticism, you seize it and transform yourself. We can take Rwanda, for example, where the international community has failed. We failed again in Kosovo and then in Sri Lanka. These things happened because we could not get ahead of the curve and nip the problems in the bud. Hence the concept of “Rights Upfront” is now being applied. We are asking our leaders on the ground that whenever they see red or even yellow lights flashing, they have to raise their cards.

By the way, it is not only the failure of the UN. It is also the failure of the international community, because governments do not want to hear. But our role as UN Secretariat is to make them hear. I think we, as the UN, are getting bolder and I think this will be the modus operandi of the UN in the future.

Q: This comes as a result of continuous tensions between governments, which are trying to focus on development at any cost, and critics and the public focusing more on democratic rights. And there is the debate about whether you can achieve development without democracy or you have to have democracy in order to develop. I want to pick up on your thoughts.

I always say that you cannot have peace without development and development without peace. What is non-negotiable is human rights. But you have to strike a balance between the three and it is the chemistry which makes a good leader. A leader strikes balance between the three and human rights is a fact of life. And then you have to move up the ladder to the other two. That is the trademark of a good leader.

Q: Your country offices have national implementations. When they do their jobs, they have to deal and work with the bureaucracy in the national governments. And you have a bureaucracy whose vested interest is not to cooperate with whatever the UNDP is trying to achieve. What new mechanisms or plans do you have to overcome these issues?

National implementation is something that our stakeholders [national governments] decide. But you are right. Sometimes, when there is implementation, we see that it is extremely low due to internal bureaucracy of the national governments. But that should not be a reason to not pursue that route. At the UNDP, what we are doing is enhancing the capacity of national governments, so that they can do their jobs. I do not think it is mischievous. I do not think that governments are deliberately trying not to do the good job.

My experience is that many governments lack capacity. What we do is help them to build capacity, because ultimately development has to be done nationally. It is the way all those countries who are succeeding in moving development forward, such as Ethiopia, have invested a lot in their national capacity to lead development.

Q: These governments you are referring to have their own organisation, known as the African Union (AU), which has all the agencies and infrastructures to respond to the development needs of the national governments. Don’t you think that the UNDP has to handover whatever it does to the AU and clear out of Africa?

I do not think handover is the right term.

Q: Why would the UNDP continue to have presence in Africa, when it is the AU that is supposed to do exactly that?

The AU is not a development implementing agency. It is a forum of leaders and states to discuss visions and development stages and how to move it forward. Implementation of development is the country’s business. But we are working in strong partnership with the AU.

I often hear people saying that the UN is a foreign agency up there. However, the UN is our instrument. We are Africans and we are part of the international community. Africans have to better use the UN instruments on the ground, because multilateralism is good for the countries’ development.

Q: Do you have an African country that you take as a model for the rest of Africa?

Many! But while we are here in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia has given us a narrative of what its emergence is. There is economic growth, but diversified growth. There has been a great impact on poverty reduction. It is also an economy in a state of transformation. Another is Rwanda. It succeeded for two reasons; a great vision and strong governance. Mozambique is also doing a good job. There is this tension between the FRELIMO [Mozambique Liberation Front] and the RENAMO [Mozambican National Resistance]. But it is a country that is moving up the ladder. We have a lot, like Angola and Cape Verde, a country where elections are respected by all leaders.

Q: You have been in the UN system for a long time. What would be your point of frustration?

You invest a lot on development and then you go back and do it all over again. If I have to make a call to leaders, it is to avoid the cases of the Central African Republic (CAR). Also, what happened in Sudan is very sad. The new nation of South Sudan was born out of the ashes. But look at what is happening now. African leaders must be very careful not to tarnish the spirit of Pan-Africanism and solidarity that the founding fathers, such as Kwame Nkrumah, wanted them to put forward. And the very way to do it is to start to respect your own people. You are just the custodians of the moment. Let the spirit flow.


Published on February 09, 2014 [ Vol 14 ,No 719]



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