Two EA leaders urge self-reliance at UN anti-poverty summit

Monday September 27 2010

By Kevin Kelly

In their speeches at last week’s United Nations summit assessing progress in reducing poverty, most leaders of East African countries highlighted the gains they have made and called for more help from donors in overcoming deficiencies.

Typical in this respect was Tanzania.

Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda told the Millennium Development Goals summit that economic reforms have produced growth rates averaging 7 per cent a year over the past decade. But, Mr Pinda cautioned, “this is not enough to achieve all MDGs.”

A modest decrease in the poverty rate “is not giving us much hope,” he admitted, adding, “In the area of child mortality, we have made little progress.”

Describing an initiative to boost incomes for farmers, Prime Minister Pinda issued an “appeal to the UN institutions, the international community, the private sector and other development partners to support our efforts.” With such support, he assured his listeners, Tanzania “will undoubtedly realise” the goal of cutting its poverty rate by half.

In contrast, two East African heads of state argued that the MDGs can be met only if poor countries do more for themselves rather than looking to donors for greater assistance.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the MDG agenda has at times been dominated by developed counties and affiliated non-governmental organisations. “Despite their good intentions,” he warned, “their perspective is often predicated on paternalism not partnership, on charity not self-reliance, and on promises unfulfilled rather than real change on the ground.”

The developing world “can no longer rely on the goodwill of other nations,” President Kagame declared. “We neither need to, nor should we want to. We must assume effective leadership, take full ownership of the development of our countries and truly deliver for our citizens.”

His remarks were closely echoed by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

“There is no doubt in my mind that those of us in the developing world have to do more and better to take charge of our destiny, to design programmes and strategies appropriate to our circumstances and mobilise our own resources as the primary means of achieving the MDGs,” he told the summit.

“Much of the external assistance we get has in practice been predicated on us toeing the line of the donor community rather than  charting our own independent course of action,” Mr Meles added.

He did urge donors to “do more and better to deliver on their promises.

"Rich countries must go beyond empty words and put their money where their mouth is if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving the MDGs by the target date, five years hence," Prime Minister Meles said.

His speech and Mr Kagame’s showed further similarities by not including much, or any, self-congratulation for progress toward the MDGs.

Mr Meles did make note of what he said was his country’s 11.6 per cent annual average growth rate, which “has created the basis for a similarly robust growth in social indicators and hence our progress in achieving the MDGs.”

In his part, Mr Kagame gave no detailed accounting of Rwanda’s performance, even though development specialists say it is among the most impressive in the developing world.

Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa told the summit that his country “has made substantial progress toward achieving the MDGs.” But he noted that gains have been only “modest” in regard to maternal and child health, access to reproductive health care, malaria and HIV/Aids.

By the UN’s own calculations, Uganda is considered “very likely” to meet at least three of the eight MDGs.

President Mwai Kibaki suggested that Kenya is moving forward in treating and preventing potentially fatal diseases and in ensuring equal representation for women in public offices.

Mr Kibaki called attention in particular to the gains Kenya has made toward its goal of enrolling all its children in primary schools.