Archive | September, 2014

The Role of Policy in Promoting Sustainable Development in Africa

30 Sep

Editor’s Note:  For the next month, we are pleased to host Tanyi Christian, who directs the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation in Cameroon.  He is here as part of a genocide prevention exchange sponsored by NEXUS Fund.  We will reciprocate his visit in November at which time we will collaborate on programs focused on access to justice, civilian military dialogue, promototing security and access to markets for women farmers, and other projects.  We hope he will be a regular contributor to this blog moving forward. 

For the last fifteen years I have worked so hard to build LUKMEF-Cameroon from a small community based organisation to one of the most credible, visible and people-focused organisations in our region. We have moved from a founder-centered organisation to one that is departmentally structured with an established international board of directors. The number of projects completed and their impact on the lives of individuals and entire communities served by the organisation has witnessed remarkable growth. Local, national and international funding streams have been fairly stable with prospects for improvement based on the visible output from the different programs and projects conducted by LUKMEF.

Like many African and Cameroonian organisations, our focus in the past was to engage in “quick fixes” to problems without addressing the fundamental root courses of the problem or assessing the longer term implications of our work. While we would appear to be doing well and doing good, a fundamental aspect of the development equation – Public Policy — is largely absent from our organizational mission.   In the absence of sound policy guiding sound practice, our hopeful story becomes fragile and ultimately jeopardizes our work to promote sustainable development.

Efforts to end poverty, disease, the negative impacts of climate change, corruption, violence, and human right abuses, while at the same time promoting education and citizen access to resources and good governance, will never achieve the desired long term results without  greater attention being paid to the fundamental  need for sound and consistent public policy. By this we refer to levels of policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, with contributions from those whose lives are directly affected by these policies, including those who experience serious problems such poverty, hunger, violence and abuse.

In our view, 70% resource allocation on policy issues and 30% on direct actions would produce the most sustainable and long term impact in developing countries, as opposed to the current formula that generally allocates more than 90% of resources to direct services. This miscalculation has unfortunately been fuelled in Africa by the funding principles of donors.  Evidently, too many donors to Africa have confused program and project outputs with long-term impact.  We often wonder how anyone can expect an organisation or community to have lasting impact when projects are funded for only 3-12 months and given the total absence or insufficiency of effective, relevant government policies? Training women on how to stand up for their rights is good but training alone cannot be the sole reason for developing a program. Talking about gender-based violence is good, but effectively stopping gender-based violence should be the ultimate goal of the intervention.  This larger goal will require long and sustained efforts to formulate, review and advocate for effective local, national, regional and global policies on gender violence.

Corruption in Cameroon as well as other African countries is endemic but it is not natural; likewise poverty is human-made but is also not natural.  Individuals and whole communities too-readily acquiesce to the reality of issues like poverty in part through their reluctance to engage with local, regional and national policy communities.  Focusing on today’s needs such as access to water, food, shelter and respect for human rights without addressing policy issues that can sustain and build upon the small gains of today towards a brighter tomorrow seems needlessly short-sided. The situation in Cameroon and the Central African region as a whole will require better policies and actions on issues of governance and conflict prevention which will in turn require trust building among citizens who are hopefully expected, more and more, to play key roles in the development and assessment of such policies.

I have concluded that every organisation as well as every action that seeks to improve local or regional conditions must also address policy issues that can either impede or help sustain development.  Unless the Sustainable Development Goals promote policy access at all levels, we are almost certain to miss our targets in the same manner — if not worse — than we missed the MDGs.

 Tanyi Christian, LUKMEF Cameroon

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The United Nations’ Annual Adventure

29 Sep

It is the Sunday after a long week of Heads of State, Foreign Ministers and a wide variety of other stakeholders all seeking to keep the UN on a positive, hopeful, practical trajectory, despite a myriad of global crises.

Side events on issues from the situation in Central African Republic to the abolition of child marriages occupied the attention of diplomats and select non-governmental representatives.   And then there was a most dramatic climate march as well as a media worthy presentation by Emma Watson on the need to encourage more male ‘champions’ for women’s rights.

The opening of the General Assembly corresponded with the re-opening of the General Assembly building.   While we have come to appreciate the North Lawn Building greatly, most participants in last week’s events seemed to enjoy the upgraded amenities of the new GA space, not to mention the reopening of the basement café. Guards and other UN personnel generally did a fine job of getting people in and out of meeting rooms and on and off crowded elevators.

It is not yet apparent how many compelling, new commitments were made this week by leaders.  There were, of course, some interesting ideas floated by civil society and governments – ideas that in our view still require more urgent scrutiny to minimize the possibility of unintended consequences.  We have already written about our cautions elsewhere on this blog with regard to both ‘veto restraint’ and the inclusion of a ‘peace objective’ within the post-2015 development goals.

There were many other things that happened this week that piqued our interest and even conveyed glimmers of hope that we can actually move confidently and urgently towards a holistic engagement of strategies to address some stubborn global emergencies.

  • At an event focused on nuclear disarmament, Brazil, Costa Rica and others properly highlighted the need for more investment in Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zones. At the same time, Chile called for the “delegitimizing” of nuclear weapons doctrines.
  • At another event focused on the death penalty, we were encouraged that so few states sought to defend their use of capital punishment. The President of Switzerland and Prime Minister of Italy made strong and convincing presentations exposing the fallacies of the death penalty.  At this same meeting, the office of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights launched the fine resource, “Moving away from the Death Penalty.”
  • In the Security Council, a US-led, co-sponsored resolution on foreign fighters passed unanimously, but Argentina’s president also noted the increasingly complex nature of terrorism and wondered aloud whether the Council’s responses are keeping pace.
  • In another Council meeting focused on ISIS, Luxembourg joined with other states in reminding members that (France’s reference to the ‘throat cutters’ notwithstanding) we are not going to solve deeper problems in the region through the application of threatening rhetoric and military power. In a similar vein, Rwanda described the ‘unbearable consequences’ that occur when the Council fails to use all available tools to maintain peace and security.
  • At an event on the role of education in the prevention of genocide, states noted the need to educate adults as well as children about the dangers of hate speech and other incitements to violence. Spain in particular spoke about the need to address conflict at its roots and noted its own, sustained advocacy work on behalf of more mediation resources.  For his part, USG Adama Dieng underscored the urgent responsibility to prevent incitement rather than waiting to address its consequences after the fact.
  • At a breakfast discussion focused on Women and Land, Ethiopia noted that land rights are tied to other rights and urged adoption of a holistic gender framework.  This sentiment was echoed by UN Women and other states in attendance.  It was also affirmed that land ownership by women lifts their general status in a variety of helpful ways.
  • At a ministerial event on Peace and Capable Institutions hosted by G7+ states, South Sudan highlighted the profound negative impacts of armed violence on fulfillment of development objectives, but wondered aloud about the wisdom of having a stand-alone ‘peace goal’ in the SDGs rather than, as others including the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste noted, a broader, more inclusive recognition in all SDGs of the importance of peaceful societies to development.
  • At a Sustainable Land Management event, New Zealand and others highlighted the degree to which restoration of damaged land constitutes a viable peace and security concern. During the same discussion, Germany highlighted some hopeful restoration initiatives while depicting hunger as one of the great “scandals” of our time.

There was so much more of note both within and beyond our hearing, of course: more hopeful statements, more missed opportunities, more rhetoric divorced from viable implementation strategies, more reminders of the connected, multi-dimensional crises that define our time.

All of this made up the past week at the UN, a highly political space that is often most effective at creating global norms to support change enacted at national and local levels.  It is at times like this when the need to simultaneously honor and demystify UN processes becomes apparent.  There are so many critical issues, including climate change, child soldiers and gender violence, that would have far less traction globally were it not for the UN’s sustained involvement.  On the other hand, the ‘talk shop’ reputation of the UN is only enhanced as a week’s worth of traffic-clogging motorcades and massive security bills result in modest outcomes as likely to disappoint public hopes as to inspire them.

As the barricades come down, the working-level diplomats resume their pride of place at UN headquarters.   Now is the time to take the most compelling suggestions from this week and turn them into strong resolutions that can leverage meaningful change.  We’ll be there to observe and reflect.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Women’s Security amidst Resource Scarcity

19 Sep

This past summer, Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict (GAPW) introduced a program initiative to explore and address gendered security questions integral to the UN thematic nexus of Food, Water, Energy and Climate.

Our approach will look most directly at the multiple challenges of water access and quality, and their impact on rural women. Our policy involvement at the UN has stressed the evolving relationship of resource scarcity as a major contributing factor to armed violence.  As is so often the case, scarcity of supplies, restrictions on access, and the violence that increasingly erupts from such conditions disproportionately impact women’s lives in a multitude of ways. This program will speak to the growing concerns regarding the effective and inclusive governance of water while identifying the potential for conflict caused by water stresses – specifically related to access, quality and a lack of participation in water-related policy.

In the first half of 2015 UN member states will have set an agenda which will then determine local and national policy interventions and activities on climate and development. Climate change negotiations related to the Conference of the Parties  (COP) 20 will transition to COP 21, and the Millennium Development Goals will formally transition to the Sustainable Development goals, most likely finalized at the 70th United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. All of global civil society will be on hand and will be ready to encourage and support governments as they adopt and implement their development and climate commitments.

On a local level NGOs will define, underscore and help promote the security measures needed to ensure SDG accountability. As Bhumika Mucchala has suggested, a universal model of accountable security must accompany the effective realization of SDGs. During the first half of 2015 GAPW will share security-related perspectives with diplomatic and global civil society actors to ensure the effective realization of SDG goals. GAPW is also committed to ensuring that agreed targets of water and food security are assessed by gendered data indicators necessary for ensuring participation and preserving peace. In all of this work, we will remain gender-aware, context- sensitive, and rights-based.

In partnership with other NGOs we seek ways to minimize risk while safeguarding conditions of sustainable development access. For example, the often-perilous journey women face in water collection and overcoming water inaccessibility heightens levels of vulnerability to exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous traffickers, smugglers and employers. We seek to ensure that new implementation models for Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture and Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, will fully examine the security needs that can help ensure access and prevent water-related armed conflict and violence against women.

As we approach the Climate Change Summit (CCS) of 2015, where member states will seek to “advance climate change action and ambition,” UNSG Ban Ki-Moon has invited member states to “bring bold announcements and actions to the summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will.” As a means to build global governance and climate diplomacy, the CCS 2015 will be a great opportunity for member states to pledge their support in a detailed, optimistic, and implementable manner. Deliberations of a “new climate economy” can raise the level of discourse, but can also change the narrative of geopolitics in ways that are welcome. While thinking about resources and conflict prevention with respect to climate change I pose three questions to member states attending CCS 2015: (1) What kind of development-related climate models are most likely to create fiscal dependencies in states? (2) Which models of sustainability are best able to ensure social stability and prevent conflict? (3) In which ways has women’s participation in water and other resource policies been enhanced to help ensure access and prevent conflict?

As CCS approaches, GAPW respectfully encourages member states to look closely at the impacts of water stresses on their societies. Indeed, the alarming rate of water stresses worldwide – related to sanitation, dam construction, sludge and other pollutants, and more — has resulted in and been exacerbated by local and state conflicts. Agribusinesses and other industries demand large quantities of existing freshwater, reducing water tables and increasing access challenges. Water, like any other resource essential to human life, represents not just a fundamental human need, but also a pivotal matter in the preservation of state and international security. In an Inter-Press Service article about water’s use as a weapon in war, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon comments, “Preventing people’s access to safe water is a denial of a fundamental human right [and the] deliberate targeting of civilians and depriving them of essential supplies is a clear breach of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Water stresses clearly create heightened vulnerability and liability for less developed countries. One major issue faced by many small island, least developed and post-conflict states is the question of how these states can be asked to respond effectively to the SDGs when the resources used to tackle any particular issue are constrained by financial, water and other deficiencies. Many have argued that the lack of equitable assistance, whether financial, infrastructure related or strategic will invariably cause new sets of constraints. At the Climate Change Summit governments will have the opportunity to cite their own specific impediments to the fulfillment of SDG obligations and also share suggestions for remediation.

Climate health and its many implications is a direct by-product of our policy and consumer choices. Our climate “footprint” is large and growing, and showcases our successes and failures. As global leaders and a large numbers of global citizens gather in New York to discuss our climate future, the time has come to stop thinking only about risk mitigation and shift to a concern for risk elimination.  We are simply running out of time to save what’s left and make that accessible to all in a fair and participatory manner.

Sulekha Prasad, WPS Fellow

Climate’s Impact on Hunger Games

18 Sep

I’m writing this on a plane returning from a week of visiting with new and longstanding colleagues working on an exciting range of security-pertinent issues as the UN seeks policy clarity and sanity on climate health this week.  From peacekeeping reform and the abolition of capital punishment to strategies for healing victims of trauma in post-conflict settings and demonstration projects in the Mediterranean to promote climate health, the range of conversations was breathtaking.   There are many fine people, it seems, who are both looking for meaningful connection to global policy and interested in the degree to which their core missions impact – and are impacted by – broad peace and security concerns.

Writing while flying is surely not the best way to advertise a commitment to sustainable futures.   My office does much less flying than in the past, and we need to do still less going forward.  Indeed, at this critical time, all of our material commitments must be carefully scrutinized.   As heads of state and concerned citizens converge in New York this week for climate discussions, it is clear that too many of us who accept the logic of climate change still resist the urgent lifestyle reform which that logic would suggest.

This next week’s key climate deliberations will take place alongside another core UN commitment – to the endorsement and implementation of a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  While diplomats have been reluctant, in part for good reason, to resist a stand-alone peace goal, there is wide recognition within this SGD process that armed violence has a major negative impact on development, and certainly on the types of development that can enhance climate health rather than accelerate the opposite trend.

These two major UN engagements certainly have points of convergence, but perhaps none so much as with the alleviation of poverty.   This clearly is a core issue for SDGs though vast obstacles remain related to debt, speculative finance, unfair trade practices, lack of access to markets and security for rural workers, a lack of public participation in national policies that have poverty implications and much more.

But one of the obstacles to poverty eradication is the degeneration of our climate itself.   Climate change is held more and more responsible – rightly in our view – for increased human migrations, food insecurity, the lack of access to potable water, and many more complicating factors.   And all of these features of our contemporary social condition – and more where they came from – have security implications.   The search for water increases the physical vulnerabilities of the seekers, especially women.   The control of water and related resources creates cross-border tensions and limits essential access. Shifts in rainfall dramatically impact crop yields and threaten local food security, shift internal migration patterns and further imbalance global trade agreements.

On September 20, Global Action will participate in a workshop on “Poverty and Peacemaking” at Princeton University.   Our specific panel will deal with food security issues.   In my 12 years running a food pantry in Harlem and in our work at GAPW with women farmers in Cameroon and elsewhere, there are several important things to communicate to the Princeton audience, including:  the impact of an increasingly sick climate on agriculture; the core insight that human security is not possible without food security; and the perhaps too-obvious insight that food security itself is severely undermined by conflict and armed violence, including conflict motivated by conditions of a deteriorating climate.

Indeed, one can make the case, and I will seek to make it at Princeton, that food security and other dimensions of physical security are intertwined at several levels.   In neighborhoods defined by heavy narcotics use and even heavier gun fire, a full refrigerator is only one of the security reassurances needed for families to break out of poverty and participate more fully in building stable and sustainable communities.

Security, we hasten to add, is as much a feeling as a condition.   There are metrics of various competencies pertaining to gun violence, child abuse, narcotics use, rape, domestic violence, etc.   There are statistics to measure welfare levels, average income, educational attainment, and more. But in the end, it is how you feel about your life and community that has the most to do with levels of personal commitment and engagement.   We choose to participate in poverty alleviation or peacemaking based on how we feel about conditions, prospects for meaningful change, and options for participation; certainly more than on how our community is tracking statistically.

During my many years in a Harlem parish and food pantry, I was sometimes called to help clean out the apartment of a deceased neighbor when there were no family members able or willing to do the job.  Often we found evidence of great hoarding, including many cans of pantry food.   In some instances, the food was piled to the ceiling with apparently no plans for it to be consumed.   Those cans represented security of one sort, a sort that is indispensable to community life.   But food issues represent only a start towards development that is fully participatory, context and gender specific, and integrative of many security concerns.  Full spectrum security must be our peacemaking goal, not merely a slice of security.

Especially this week, we must be mindful of the ways in which the grind of poverty is directly influenced by climactic imbalances.  As our climate deteriorates, more fields will lie barren and more communities will embark on new and more desperate migrations.  No matter how comprehensive and well-intentioned our MDGs, climate sickness might well make poverty harder to alleviate than ever before.

What happens this week in New York is no game, no mere diplomatic exercise. It’s time to step up, to feel the desperate urgency that many millions of people around the world just can’t shake as their crops wither and weapons proliferate around them. Indeed, it’s quite a bit past time.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Twilight Zones:  Keeping a Fading Light on Disarmament Obligations

7 Sep

A line in the UN Journal for September 8 invites diplomats and observers to an ‘informal’ meeting of the Disarmament Commission, a body that has, by the admission of most who participate in it, fallen short of any reasonable expectations for its performance.

A reputation like the one attributed to this Commission, rightly or wrongly, has led increasingly for calls to pursue disarmament outside of existing international structures.   Such structures clearly add value to certain weapons-related processes – cluster munitions come immediately to mind — but are not without their detractors.  Indeed there is legitimate concern that self-selected policy settings tend to accelerate the pace of ‘like mindedness’ that crowds out the thoughtful and critical assessments of weapons policies that can help eliminate policy errors and create new disaramament consensus among all UN member states.  Reservations, as many others have noted, should not automatically imply efforts to demean or weaken.

That said, there is one area that has a tenuous relationship to the disarmament policy grid, that can and should attract more diplomatic interest, and that might even help to revitalize interest in more formal disarmament structures of the UN – the Nuclear Weapons (and proposed WMD) Free Zones.

The inspiration for this post derives much from the policy work and strategic thinking of UNODA’s Michael Spies.   He correctly identifies the ‘highly fragile and weak’ international regime governing the possession and spread of nuclear weapons.  He also identifies ways in which the zones can help to close loopholes that allow non-nuclear weapons states to continue to contribute in varying ways to (and derive the benefits from) the arsenals of the nuclear weapons states.   And he identifies the different ways in which the common strengthening of the zones can help promote a safer, nuclear free world.

Spies makes clear that paying closer attention to the zones can clarify responsibilities for non-nuclear weapons states in confronting the inability of the nuclear weapons powers (those acknowledged by the NPT and those not) to honor disarmament obligations.  Such attention can also help solidify standards of policy and infrastructure that can both elevate the effectiveness of individual zones and more directly ensure that states participating in any of the zones can speak with a clear and unified voice when seeking due diligence on security and disarmament from the nuclear weapons powers.  Such ‘consolidation of standards,’ to use a term favored by Spies, can also help states monitor each other to ensure that they are not condemning nuclear weapons possession on the one hand while simultaneously providing cover or support for states committed to keeping nuclear weapons as a signature feature of their military doctrines.

Another value from our standpoint is that states participating in more robust zones can thereby enhance their capacity to work together on a wide variety of security matters affecting conditions both within and between regional states.   While we have no data to support this assertion directly, it has always seemed to us that the relatively robust structure of Latin America’s OPANAL (Treaty of Tlatelolco) could be a particularly useful starting (not an end) point for the creation of common standards of zone organization and conduct.  Clearly there are other factors promoting Latin America’s leadership in this area including growing economies, the relative absence of armed violence and grave human rights violations, and excellent interventions by international organizations including the UN’s regional disarmament office in Lima (UNLiREC).  As the Latin American region becomes more politically stable, efforts to create and sustain regional security frameworks (ie. UNASUR) that distance themselves from the US and other larger powers  provide additional hope that Latin American states can forthrightly examine OPANAL’s own strengths and limitations while promoting commonly adhered standards for zone conduct that are very much in the interests of the global commons.

In so many respects, the international security situation seems to be moving steadily towards a dark place.   But the zones represent a lengthening (if fading) light, a chance for the regions – especially those regions not currently drowning in insurgencies or groaning under bloated military expenditures — to make their case for alternatives to a world awash in illicit (or profoundly destructive) weapons and the weapons-dependent doctrines of possessor states.

The nuclear weapons free zones have not, in our view, gotten the attention they deserve from the UN’s mostly-stalemated disarmament architecture.   Before the disarmament sun sets entirely, there are many more opportunities to promote more effective, robust, common standards for the zones that can leverage more integrated regional security arrangements and especially close loopholes that needlessly accommodate the needs of nuclear weapons powers.  Such opportunities must be seized while the twilight remains.

Dr. Robert Zuber