Ireland and Kenya are set to lead UN negotiations on development strategy but in what direction?


Kenya faces many development challenges including ethnic violence, corruption, high unemployment, crime and poverty. It now has a chance to help shape the global development agenda.  Photo: A member of The El Molo fishing community on lake Turkana, northern Kenya, Siegfried Modola/IRIN.

This month, Ireland and Kenya were appointed to lead UN negotiations on the post-2015 development strategy. Ireland’s and Kenya's roles will be led by their respective Ambassadors to the United Nations, David Donoghue and Macharia Kamau. They were appointed as "Co-Facilitators to lead open, inclusive, and transparent consultations on the post-2015 development agenda" by UN General Assembly President Sam Kutesa.

The post-2015 strategy is intended to replace the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire next year. The Goals have provided significant direction to global development strategies since they were agreed fourteen years ago.

Irish Minister of State for Development, Trade Promotion and North-South Cooperation, Seán Sherlock T.D., outlined the importance of the leadership roles: "The role we have been given is pivotal in addressing the ambitious challenge to end global poverty and hunger in a generation. It will require Ireland to work closely with all members of the United Nations to secure a set of new goals which are ambitious and transformative. We will be defining an agenda for global action to end poverty and hunger and to ensure sustainable development worldwide by 2030"

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan T.D., described Ireland's appointment as "a huge honour... and a great responsibility". He said: "It is testament to Ireland’s standing internationally, to our proud record of promoting human rights, to our long-standing participation in peacekeeping across the world and to our diplomacy (and) a recognition of the effectiveness of the Irish Aid programme."

He added: “This significant new role will build on Ireland’s important work on international development during our EU Presidency in 2013, and on the MDGs at the United Nations.”

The MDGs were a series of development outcomes, such as to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day.

Not every target was met in every country but huge progress has been made. The goal of halving the proportion of people earning less than $1.25 a day was met in 2010. Halving the numbers suffering from hunger in 1990 should be almost met by 2015.

Despite population growth, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013. In 2013, there were 46 deaths per 1,000 live births, down from about 90. However, that is still short of the target of 30. As progress has been made, the emphasis is turning to mortality in the first month of life and to sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where four out of every five deaths of children under age five occur. Reduced child mortality has changed global life expectancy. It reached 70 years in 2010, having been 59 just four decades previously.

The MDGs were not without their critics. Some objected that developing countries were given insufficient ownership or responsibility. Kenya's recent policies, highlight the potential of domestic decision-making. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya recently highlighted “foundational changes” Kenya had made in its own development in the last four years, including universal immunization coverage, promoting breast-feeding, and providing fortified foods, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and free maternal and childcare.

Others critics of the MDGs said that the role of post-1990 economic growth or of non-UN entities in meeting the targets had been downplayed. Some made the case that important goals had been left out, while others argued that choosing any goals would distort development priorities, resulting in suboptimal investments and choices, and unintended consequences. The emphasis on simple quantities yielded concerns over quality. For example, the number of children enrolled in primary school gives no information on the extent of learning that is taking place. There were goals relating to basic needs and gender equality but not to other human rights or freedoms.

The MDGs have plenty of supporters too. They have been a motivating and strategic factor for many working in development. Defenders of the Goals might argue that the results speak for themselves and that the best should not be the enemy of the good. The MDGs prioritised measurable outcomes over aid quantity, which was a significant development even if the measures were open to criticism.

Given the controversy that the original goals generated, agreeing on a new development strategy and perhaps new goals to replace them will not be easy. Ireland is particularly well placed to work with Kenya in leading the UN negotiations. Its development aid has repeatedly scored at or near the top of independent evaluations of aid agency effectiveness. More than any other donor, its aid is targeted at the very poorest, who are likely to be the focus of the new strategy.

One of the key considerations for the negotiations may be the prioritisation of prevention and resilience. The current Ebola crisis demonstrates how weaknesses in healthcare systems and public health education can leave a country and its neighbours exposed to the risk of an epidemic. Inadequate public health information also creates the space for conspiracy theories and quack cures which undermined efforts to eradicate polio and to limit the spread of AIDS. As both Ireland and Kenya know, political and economic inequalities if unaddressed can provide the seeds for conflict. Weakly governed and authoritarian states are unstable and prone to collapse or conflict, as are states where political power is organised along ethnic or geographic lines.

Another key consideration may be the use of evidence-based approaches and cost-effectiveness analyses, such as those by The Copenhagen Consensus, in determining strategies. There is significant evidence that reducing hunger should be a top priority, which is exactly what Ireland has done with its own aid programme. It was also one of the MDGs.

Economic growth and its sustainability is likely to be on many minds. A significant portion of sub-Saharan Africa's recent growth has come from the sale of non-renewable resources. One fear is that the spoils will go to the well-connected and then to foreign bank accounts. The region is currently experiencing favourable demographics but that will not last indefinitely. The question is what can or should the international community do to help sub-Saharan Africa make the best use of its current opportunities.

Another consideration could be to look at which strategies have the best long-term and indirect impacts – for example, reducing hunger, improving health and female education were all among the MDGs and are also known to have a significant additional benefits in terms of productivity and well-being. A new area would be that of increased freedom, civil rights and equality, as all are linked to both peace and long-term growth. It may not be an easy task to persuade all UN members to agree to prioritise human rights and political freedom, including media freedom, but perhaps Ireland and Kenya could rise to the challenge.

For Kenya that would be an internal challenge as much as an external one. Kenya's Freedom House rating has dropped from 3.0 to 4.0 in the last 10 years. It is categorised as 'partly free'. In December 2013, the parliament passed what Freedom House described as "a repressive law empowering a government tribunal to regulate all forms of media." However, Kenya still ranks above many of its neighbours.

Ireland's rating is 1.0 and scores at or near the maximum in every Freedom House category. Sharan Kelly, Chairperson of Dóchas, the Irish association of overseas development NGOs, and CEO of Tearfund Ireland, believes that Ireland's appointment to this role was indirectly down to its role in overseas aid and human rights work.

However, Ireland has fallen short of some its targets. Hans Zomer, Director of Dóchas, has called on Ireland to meet its international obligations. "Ireland has now been put in a leadership position and it should lead by example and achieve its overseas aid and climate change targets," he said.

Zomer also highlighted that the fact that the post-2015 framework will be binding for all UN Member states. "This is important as to-date rich countries have failed to honour their commitments on aid and fairer trade under the existing agreement," he said

There will be many competing views and interests trying to shape the new framework. The UN-Secretary-General's High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Agenda made a series of recommendations that are likely to be influental:

  • to leave no one behind and to use disaggregated data and new technologies to ensure that goal is being met
  • to put sustainable development at the core – harnessing responsible private sector partnership – to realize the integration of social, economic, and environmental sustainability
  • to transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth
  • to build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all
  • to forge a new global partnership

The Panel also stressed the importance of taking a coherent approach to finance, development, climate, and trade negotiations culminating in 2015, as progress in each area is dependent on progress in the others. They also said that developing countries must continue to bear primary responsibility for their own sustainable development. That could also be read as a statement of humility on the part of the international community.

For more about the post 2015 agenda, see :


To participate in the global conversation on Sustainable Development Goals: http://vote.myworld2015.org/

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