African Delegations at Rio Conference Agree to Soldier on
Rio de Janeiro- - The African Spokesperson and Political Coordinator of the Rio+20 process on Thursday downplayed Africa's limited success at the just-ended United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, saying "we should now focus on the areas of the Rio+20 outcome document that we think need further negotiations in the coming days and months."
President Denis Sassou N'Guesso of the Republic of Congo was speaking at a news conference jointly addressed by the current Chairman of the African Union, President Yaya Boni of Benin; the chair of the Commission, Jean Ping and attended by a cross section of African leaders present at the Rio+20 parley.
According to the Information and Communication Service (ICS) of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the news conference was held against the background of what African delegations saw as a deliberate tendency by developed countries to rescind all earlier commitments on poverty reduction and the economic development of the continent.
President Sassou recalled the Africa Consensus Statement for Rio+20 and observed that not much had been achieved in any of the key areas of the Statement: renewed political commitment; green economy in the context of sustainable development; means of implementation; institutional framework for sustainable development; and sustainable development goals.
He said that, in fact, except for means of implementation in the context of green economy, little else had been achieved.
Much to the dislike of many African delegates, the language and overall tone during general discussion at the Conference was aspirational and non-prescriptive, as had been the case in most previous development conferences.
Indeed, throughout the final phase of the negotiations leading up to the Rio+20 outcome document, there had been an obvious move away from straight language on rights and equity principles, led by the richest countries and reflected in attempts to leave as un-agreed, 20-year-old Earth Summit principles.
For example, the generally agreed rights to food and water became the issues of "access to food" and "access to water."
Similarly, the "fundamental right of universal access to health" was watered down to recognizing "the importance of universal health coverage” and even poverty eradication had been re-qualified as eradicating "extreme poverty”.
Cameroon’s Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Michel Tommo Monthe might have been right in suggesting during the negotiation phase that unless Africa is repositioned as a special case of underdevelopment in the international discourse, development partners might either ignore or even rescind some of the commitments they had undertaken with respect to the continent.
The leader of Niger, President Mahamadou Issoufou later echoed the same apprehension at the news conference when he suggested that, given the qualified success that Africa had achieved in Rio, leaders ought to initiate a new drive to bring global attention to the unfulfilled commitments of the international commitments for the continent.
President Sassou N’Guesso agreed and proposed that a committee be put in place to come out with a real strategy on the way forward, post-Rio+20.
“The African proposal on the transformation of UNEP into a UN specialized agency on environmental issues was referred to the General Assembly of the UN, which comes up next September”, he said, and "we must begin work on it right away, if we want to see the process go through.”
The Congolese leader agreed that the current world economic situation had made it more unlikely for development partners to deliver on their commitments towards Africa’s development, but added that “some of these promises date back to more than a decade, at the time when President Abdou Diouf of Senegal was Chair of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU)”.
He noted that what is unfortunate now is the introduction of new language in the conversation about Africa's development.
"These days the talk is no longer about how to uplift Africans out of unacceptable poverty levels, but about realistic and inspirational commitments.
"Our partners now ask us to be more flexible with our demands regarding the private sector. But we must continue to insist on the application of the principle of common but differential responsibility--- that is, the principle that rich countries should be held more accountable for having contributed more towards green house gas emissions or environmental degradation," the Congolese leader regretted.
The truth is that although Africa gained some grounds in Rio in the provision (or in fact, promise) of some resources for renewable energy, several sections of the final Rio+20 outcome document hardly satisfied delegations from the continent.
He however, said that Africa could be satisfied that it had come away from Rio having ensured that global attention had been refocused on means of implementation of sustainable development targets.
He added that clear links between Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals are now fully understood and accepted by the developed and developing countries.
"With all this in mind, I think the best thing that Africa should be doing now, is to bear in mind that the Rio process remains ongoing; and ought not be limited to the results of a single meeting. We should revisit our strategies and look ahead to next September's General Assembly meeting of the UN where we still have the possibility of making our case on all these issues", he concluded.