An Uncommonly Common Position: Forging Consensus on Post-2015 in Africa

By Jessica Espey, senior Research Adviser at Save the Children UK, and adviser on the post-2015 process to the Liberian president:

Next week the High Level Committee of African Heads of State and Government (a 10 President-strong group appointed by the African Union and Dr. Dlamini-Zuma) will hold its first meeting in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York.

The High Level Committee (HLC) is comprised of 2 Heads of State and Government from each region; North Africa- Algeria and Mauritania, East Africa- Ethiopia and republic of Mauritius, Southern Africa- Republic of South Africa and Namibia, West Africa- Liberia and Guinea, Central Africa- the Republic of Congo and the Republic of Chad.

Although some may question the utility of yet another High Level Committee or Panel working on the post-2015 process, this Committee looks set to be a key influencing body as we move into the intergovernmental negotiations.  A strong African Common Position will be essential to ensure Africa’s particular concerns (e.g. industrialization, a growing youth population, conflict and fragility) gain sufficient attention in the final framework. Furthermore reflecting on Africa’s performance with the MDGs may help the future framework to avert specific pitfalls, such as the use of aggregate global targets which gave no recognition to many African countries’ impressive relative progress.

Furthermore a strong continental position may help to balance the opposing poles within the G77 group, with some pushing for very narrowly defined sustainability goals, focused purely on environment as opposed to human development, and others very keen to see a very simplistic extension of the MDGS (MDGs 2.0), with little space for the incorporation of new issues. Furthermore some actors see little need for the North to share an equal burden or responsibility for the pursuit of global development.

The emerging African position (shaped by a series of continental consultations run by the AUC, UNECA and UNDP RBA) looks set to strike a appropriate balance of all these elements, emphasizing the need to retain many of the key elements of the MDGs, but seeking to complete them (or ‘get to zero’), whilst also including a greater focus on marginalized issues like governance, conflict and fragility and inclusive economic growth. Nevertheless many will be anxiously waiting to see where Africa lands on sustainability issues, and in particular how Africa responds to the question of how to promote rapid economic growth whilst sustainably managing environmental resources?

The HLC, which will be managing this process, will undoubtedly benefit from the strong leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the chair and formerly a co-chair of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons. The High Level Panel’s report – ‘A New Global Partnerships’-  set forth a vision ‘to end extreme poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development and to have in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all.’  This balanced vision has been, on the whole, well received by governments, multilateral institutions and civil society partners (see for example the letter from heads of major multilateral institutions to the Secretary General).

But a strong African Common Position on post-2015 is also a unique opportunity for Africa. Since the 1990s it has become relatively common for the 53 member states of the African Union to attempt to harmonize their individual negotiating positions on major international issues in order to turn their numbers into real political clout in international negotiations. Nevertheless previous common positions have been critiqued for poor consultation with the regional economic commissions, with small and poorer African states and with civil society (see for example Zondi 2011).

This time around the Common position will draw on consultations which have taken place across the Continent over the past year, led by the AUC and UNECA, as well as complimentary consultations orchestrated to inform the Monrovia High Level Panel Meeting in January 2013 and as part of the UN Global Consultation Process. Altogether these consultations exercises have involved representatives from governments, multilateral agencies, regional economic commissions, United Nations Staff, academics, media and civil society, with specific attention to particular marginalized groups such as small-holder farmers, youth, the elderly and disabled. These groups will now be able to hold the HLC and the African Union to account. Their interests must be evident in the Common Position and defended in the intergovernmental negotiation if the new global framework is really going to strive to end poverty once and for all.

When the MDGs were formulated, Africa was absent from the negotiation table. This time around the African Member States should be the strongest voices in the room, singing from a common song sheet that represents the whole breadth of the Continent’s diverse and unique society and shows Africa to be a Continent rising.

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