Helen Clark at the UNDP Annual Meeting for Africa

16 Jun 2009

Statement by Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP on the occasion of the 2009 Annual Cluster Meeting of Resident  Representatives/Resident Co-ordinators From UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa

Your Excellency,  Mr Ato Sufian Ahmed, Minister of Finance and Economic Development of Ethiopia;
Mr Abdoulie Janneh, United Nations Under Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa;
Mr Lionel Zinsou, Special Advisor to the President of Benin, UNDP Resident Representatives and Resident Co-ordinators;
Country directors;
Colleagues from UNDP and the UN system;
Distinguished guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the annual cluster meeting of Resident Representatives/Resident Co-ordinators from UNDP’s regional Bureau for Africa.

At the outset, let me express my thanks to the Government of Ethiopia for agreeing to host this meeting here in Addis Ababa.  We are indeed appreciative of the hospitality of the government and people of Ethiopia.

Later this morning I will be introducing the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, His Excellency Mr Meles Zenawi, who will address us on the impact of the global economic crisis on Africa.  UNDP is very grateful that Prime Minister Zenawi has made time to be with us on this important occasion.

As UNDP colleagues are aware, this is the beginning of my eighth week as UNDP Administrator.

The first few weeks I spent in New York, meeting as many people as possible in our organization.  That included meeting a number of Resident Co-ordinators/Resident Representatives deployed in Africa who were passing through New York.  It has been enormously beneficial to me to meet you and hear your stories from the frontline of development - whether that be in a country in crisis, or in recovery from crisis, or in one which is stable and able to focus fully on its development strategies.

As well, my door has been open to ministers, senior officials and ambassadors from both developing and developed countries, and to representatives of our many other partners within the UN family and beyond.

This has helped me become familiar with the many and diverse expectations there are of UNDP.

Then, in the past few days, I have been in Africa, visiting, first, Liberia, and then the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In both countries I have been able to speak with senior government leaders; the major UN missions led by Special Representatives of the Secretary General; UNDP staff and other members of UN Country Teams; donors; partner agencies; and representatives of civil society.

Now this regional cluster meeting here in Addis Ababa gives me the opportunity to meet our partners in Ethiopia and in the regional organizations centred here, as well as to meet with UNDP’s senior management from across the programme countries covered by our Regional Bureau for Africa.

The decision to visit Africa first has been a very deliberate one.

What attracted me to step forward as a candidate for the position of Administrator was the prospect of being able to contribute to poverty reduction and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Nowhere is that more important now than in  Africa.

I come from a background of working for decades on economic and social justice issues and with a huge commitment to sustainable development, the peaceful resolution of conflict, political and social inclusion, and reconciliation.

The opportunity to make a contribution to these goals through UNDP’s development mission is one which motivates me.  And I do believe that we are all here because we want to make a difference for the better to people’s lives.

How we go about making that difference is critical.

While UNDP is a large organization in the UN development system, its funding if spread thinly and unfocused would make little impact.

The same applies to the UN development system as a whole.  Even bulked up across the system, I understand that the development funding available through the UN amounts to little more than twenty per cent of the total of such funding world wide.

So in UNDP, and I believe across the organizations represented in the UN Development Group which I chair, we must be very strategic in the interests of the peoples and nations we exist to serve.

Nickel and diming our way through a series of small projects will never help bring about the transformational change the world’s peoples seek through development.

UNDP’s core function, mandated by our Executive Board, is to support capacity building and capacity development.

Working with programme countries, we can support the development of the smart strategies, policies, structures, and processes and the skills base which will have system wide impact.

It goes without saying that we ourselves will have to upskill continually to provide that support to best effect.

In the ideal future I see for our organization, small projects should be embarked on only where they have the potential for catalytic or demonstration effect – or where we truly are the provider of last resort.

We are mandated to work in four focus areas – all of them interrelated.

In the two nations I have just come from, all four areas are relevant to our work, as we support recovery from the deeply traumatic and devastating events of their recent past.  In the case of the DRC, as in some other countries in the region, conflict is ongoing.

Our role is to support a movement from crisis and humanitarian support to early recovery – and through the Resident Co-ordinator function to co-ordinate with other agencies which can play a role.

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration into society, and I submit, reconciliation, all need to be at play here.  If they are not successfully completed, further conflict is likely.

Put simply – peace and security are preconditions for development and for progress on the other three pillars of our work.

Promoting better governance is also fundamental.  I know that UNDP takes this very seriously, and is involved in supporting it in many ways.

There are institutions to be built, strategies to be written, and major reforms to be contributed to.  Where programme countries are seeking our support, we have to be able to provide quality responses.

I know that we have developed a strong capacity to support electoral processes and that we can be proud of our contribution to high levels of participation and transparency around elections in many places.

Our governance work is relevant at all levels.  I note the emphasis many of our country teams are placing on alignment with decentralization strategies which aim to build stronger local and regional government and service delivery.

Progress in areas such as access to justice, accountability of local and national governments to citizens, strengthening national human rights institutions and systems of justice,  making election processes truly transparent and fair, and ensuring that parliaments play their role of scrutiny well – all of these are of fundamental importance to a functioning democratic society.

Equally important, they are also fundamental to human development and economic progress, and for tackling the tough environmental challenges we face together.

As we move forward and build on our solid foundations in our governance practice area, we will need to much more systematically link our governance work to our work to combat poverty, achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and achieve sustainable development.

Alas, none of the countries we work in through the Regional Bureaus for Africa are presently on track to achieve all the MDGs at this time.

When the MDGs were signed up to in 2000, 2015 looked a long way away.
Now the target is a mere six years away.

Martin Luther King Jr once wrote : “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late….We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words : Too Late.”

Let not “Too Late” be the epitaph of the MDGs.

I believe it would be wrong now just to dismiss the MDGs as mere aspirational or stretch goals.

The MDGs are enormously important targets, the achievement of which would make a huge improvement to peoples’ lives – in lifting income, offering both opportunity through education and for better health status, empowering women, tackling deadly and debilitating diseases, nurturing our environment for current and future generations, and forming strong global partnerships for development.

In the middle of a global economic crisis, making progress on these goals is of course challenging.  In fact we risk going backwards.  

But if we drill down to the specific situation of any country and to evidence of progress and failure on specific MDGs, or we look at growth potential in new and emerging areas, we will find that dramatic progress is often possible. That progress will depend on what kinds of policies nations pursue, their budget priorities, their ability to enact governance improvements, and investments in filling crucial capacity gaps.

We should not accept the projection into the future of a past dismal trend as some kind of  iron law of nature.

Every year, indeed every day, policy makers can make changes which completely alter such a trajectory at national and sub-national levels.

There are plenty of examples of that, including here in Africa.

Every day we in UNDP, working with partners, can contribute to strategic breaks from dismal trends and habits.

And every day, international donors can make decisions about delivering more and better aid for more strategic purposes, and every day there is a chance to work for improved terms of trade and of debt servicing.  

In a few short weeks, for example, the G8 has the opportunity again not only to reaffirm the commitments it made at Gleneagles to double ODA from 2004  levels by 2010, but also explicitly to commit to mobilize the resources needed to fund the Gleneagles Scenarios which are being developed for African countries. If implemented, these scenarios would make a powerful difference to the ability of countries on this continent to achieve the MDGs.

Similarly it is to be hoped that the next meeting of the G20 in September might focus more attention on how to support low income countries through the global recession.

We in UNDP must also relentlessly search, every day, for the opportunities to make a difference. If we embrace this standard, if we think laterally, and if we innovate, we still have time to turn tides and send pessimistic forecasts to the dustbins. If we apply that standard, the six short years left to the end of 2015 become more than 2,300 precious days, each one with specific possibilities.

The environment and sustainable development lie both in our core mandate and within the Millennium Development Goals.

I think our challenge is to bring our work in this area into the centre of our thinking about poverty reduction.

We have an opportunity to do just that with respect to the climate change agenda.

A few weeks, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame became the first African leader to state explicitly that the continent’s future depends more on what comes out of the climate negotiations than what happens in many international development fora.

He argued that Africa needs a strong climate deal, and quickly, so that global emissions, so dangerous for Africa, can be brought under control as soon as possible. And he called for strong mechanisms to help the continent move towards a low carbon growth path and to strengthen its resilience to unavoidable impacts.

President Kagame hit the nail on the head. No continent is as dangerously vulnerable as Africa. And the continent can indeed benefit tremendously from carbon finance if the right conditions are created.

We in UNDP must now move to the frontline of supporting African countries in both the negotiations process and in helping to put in place the policies and capacities which will allow them to succeed in the fast-approaching carbon constrained and climate challenged world. This was the substance of my letter to Resident Co-ordinators/Resident Representatives last week.

The good news is that UNDP is rolling out a number of tools and facilities which will help our country teams to scale up their support.  You will be hearing more about this from Olav and his colleagues.

It goes without saying that throughout all our work we must be very mindful of the importance of our two cross cutting themes: the mainstreaming of gender perspectives and of responses to HIV-Aids.

The empowerment of women matters enormously to me, as one long supported by other women and men to break glass ceilings and go where few others have gone before – or none in the case of the position of UNDP Administrator. We owe it to current and future generations of women to extend the ladder of opportunity to them.

I also believe that women’s empowerment can play an important part over time in helping find solutions to the epidemic of sexual and gender based violence which has led the Security Council to commit to the strongly worded Resolution 1820. We in UNDP can play our part in tackling these most difficult of issues.

The HIV-Aids pandemic plays a significant role in blighting development prospects on this continent. UNDP works hard in many countries on behalf of the Global Fund for fighting the disease. Those efforts also provide opportunities to build more effective primary health care systems which are capable of more effective action in preventing the spread of the disease. Prevention is always better than cure – and for this disease there is as of now no cure.

In my address today I have sought to focus on UNDP’s critical functions of supporting capacity building and capacity development, and on the key areas of focus in our mandate and how they relate to each other.

In the course of this week you will address many other issues, including ongoing UN reform and the “delivering as one approach.”

Delivering as one has always seemed like common sense to me, and we must work across organizations to remove bureaucratic barriers to making it happen. A number of programme countries outside the pilots have observed them and want to take a similar approach – our host, Ethiopia is one. We must work with others in the UN development system to make that happen.

Indeed making it happen will be critical in my view to ensuring that the UN’s development work remains relevant and responsive to programme countries. The aid effectiveness agenda embraces national ownership, local delivery, and effective partnerships for development. The UN can be a better partner and more effective if it co-ordinates its own development activities, so that it can then better co-ordinate with others and get the best value for and results from investment in development.

In conclusion, can I thank you, the leaders of UNDP from across the region, and your country teams for your dedication to your work and to development. I am well aware that many of you work in circumstances which go beyond being merely challenging. As well, each of your teams must now be responsive to the extra demands which the global economic crisis is placing on developing countries.

I hope that this cluster meeting will serve you as a forum for learning and debate, and that you will return to your host countries re-energised to lead the work of providing vital support to national development strategies.