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Moving the ACP Group to Centre Stage of Multilateralism

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Op-ed by Dr. Patrick I. Gomes Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP)

Brussels 19 April 2019/ACP: In today’s global situation that bears the features of turbulence, fragility and an increasingly precarious balance between peace and possible nuclear annihilation, the role and relevance of the United Nations Organisation has assumed unparalleled importance.

It was a perceptive comment of the late Nelson Mwalimu Mandela, who in his landmark speech to the United Nations on October 3, 1994, posed the question and demanded a response to what he considered to be the enduring imperative confronting the United Nations today, more than ever.
 
Mandela said, “the great challenge of our age to the United Nations Organisation is to answer the question – given the interdependence of the nations of the world, what is it that we can and must do to ensure that democracy, peace and prosperity prevail everywhere”.
 
Ensuring that democracy, peace and prosperity should prevail everywhere in today’s world, can rightly be seen not only as the great challenge of our age but also the ultimate measure against which the survival of the values of justice, solidarity, rule of law and respect for human rights are to be the defining qualities that underpin the relations between States and governments.
 
These values remain essential for the discharge of the State’s responsibility to enable each citizen to enjoy the right to life, liberty, use of private property and freely associate with other human beings.
 
These rights and their practice constitute what is generally referred to as the basis of a liberal human order in which the dignity of all human beings can be upheld and flourish. Taken together, the organisation of various forms of human endeavour in the exercise of power in politics, through commerce, trade or business, as in sports or culture, give rise to a system of human interaction described as multilateralism.
 
Fundamental to such systemic relations between more than one country, government, organization or group is an agreed common set of values and principles on which to conduct the interactions and transactions of political decision making or for trade, the conduct of business or a social goal.
 
This entails the willingness to share common responsibilities, mutually agreed, and to undertake tasks to achieve the specified goals for which the parties, be they governments, business or some organization, have been formed. On a basis of trust and observance of agreed rules, interdependence becomes more than theory but practice in pursuit of a stated purpose.
 
The “interdependence of nations” of which Mandela spoke has been multiplied enormously in recent decades. More so now, that the tragic incidents of violent conflicts or civil war, as in Syria for seven years and the loss of some 500,000 lives, are daily occurrences. These are of such frequency that many remain unperturbed in the face of media coverage of deep and callous loss of human life. These take on an appearance in many forms that are as threatening and disturbing to be existential in their nature and cataclysmic in their consequences.
 
Brought to the brink of a nuclear engagement between the USA and North Korea, only a few years ago, most recent tensions of nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, over the disputed Territory of Kashmir, were instigated by dreaded loss of lives, the majority of which were civilians.
 
Such long-standing conflicts before the United Nations Security Council, as are so many issues, areas and arenas of violence, are distinct contradictions to the “democracy, peace and prosperity” of which Mandela had drawn attention.
 
Indeed, the interdependence of nations in this century is evident in the impact of globalization, as phenomenal advances in digital communications for news, entertainment, business, trade or travel.
 
Alongside these are ever-present manifestations of repression of minorities, violent extremism, racial discrimination and unsurpassed cruelty to women, girls and children, presenting a picture of blatant racism, hate and conflict. Most horrific has been the brutal murder of worshipers in a mosque in Christ Church, New Zealand on March 15, 2019. So admirable has been the healing of the society and the legal measures to abolish military weapons and lethal arms and ammunition.
 
Hate crimes and ethos of nationalism
 
Underlying these contradictions is a demagoguery that promotes nationalism and capitalizes on fears, making scape goats of migrants as causes of inequalities and loss of jobs. This pattern has become widespread across borders and fuelled at the highest level in the USA.
 
This divisive narrative insidiously, and now more openly, infecting the social fabric of societies is promoted and endorsed by leaders in both so-called developed and emerging societies. A most glaring spectacle of this now reaches with glorious adoption by the newly-elected President of Latin America’s largest economy. “America first” is copied as a clarion call across communities, neighbourhoods and the workplace.
 
That facile resort to propagating false solutions in nationalist ideologies derive from an attempt to blame the globalization process that has expanded trade, financial transactions and a rapid spread of services for medicine and health care, education or entertainment now accessible across the globe at the speed of lightening.
 
This phenomenal degree of connectivity and interdependence, loosely defines main features of globalization, bringing in its wake mixed results. The evident extremes of wealth and poverty or abundance and scarcity are used to feed envy, hate and promotion of racism. A counter foil to this was the short-lived 1% movement in the USA.
 
None would doubt that globalization has accomplished a massive reduction of poverty in China and among Asian developing economies. Expanded trade across borders and continents, with a division of labour that allows small enterprises to engage in global value chains with the benefit of marketing and production technologies on an unprecedented scale is often cited as a benefit of globalization.
 
But, since many individuals and countries bear the brunt of acute inequalities and deep concentrations of wealth and power by the few who control finance capital, the reactions of populism have an objective, material basis and pursue their agency of solutions by nationalistic prescriptions.
 
These amount to preying on disenchantment of millions denied legitimate opportunities to earn a reasonable income and by propaganda are turned into fostering enmity and generating a following based on distrust of the political establishment that emphasises corruption of public officials, who are invariably regarded as accomplices of the wealthy and greatest beneficiaries of globalization.
 
The task in our view is to confront economic injustice and the systemic legal conditions for excessive wealth fuelled by greed and deal-making that need to be challenged by the embedding of values of justice, equal opportunity, solidarity of humanity and respect for the rule of law, in which no one is privileged either by money, racial origin or social standing. Herein lies the basis of a liberal order for all human transactions and at the global level are anchored in multilateralism.
 
Challenges to implement the UN’s Agenda 2030
 
Seen from the perspective of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, the rising tide of reactionary populist movements, from the right or left, generating fear, cynicism, ethnocentrism or simplistic calls for solutions to complex and intricate challenges is both misleading and misinformed.  Facing an increasingly interdependent world, a knee-jerk denial of the objective grounds on which populism thrives is in itself naïve and allows reactionary elements to spread the ideology of nationalism.
 
An explicit recognition of the need to systematically, and on a broad base of a common vision, examine root causes of disenchantment and alienation, particularly of youth, is now increasingly clear as a first step to deal with distorted notions of human well-being. This is becoming entrenched in a world order reshaped by nationalism and promoted by the present American administration, built on deal-making disregarding broadly agreed norms of truth and honesty.
 
Critical issues facing our 21st century, still burdened by endemic poverty of millions in the Global South, and experiencing deepening inequality, in the face of callous use of violence in multiple forms, demands a comprehensive response across borders of nations and regions.
 
Such a response will benefit from and build on the kernel of commitment by all members of the United Nations in their adoption of the Agenda 2030 of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for People, Planet, Pace and Prosperity. Armed with this resolve, the centrality of purpose for a dynamic multilateralism is an imperative and not an option.
 
Inherent in a rejuvenated multilateralism lies the values and human agency for systemic and strategic engagements. These must of necessity be multi-level and addressing mutually reinforcing thematic areas of the SDGs drawing on coherent and coordinated synergies by countries, organisations, institutions and communities from continents and regions of North and South. Although universal, the SDGs are not mutually exclusive since “ending poverty in all its forms and everywhere” (SDG1) cannot be adequately addressed without a relation to “food, nutrition and hunger” (SDG2) or “education or health of women and girls” (SDG5).
 
Towards a multilateralism rooted in everyday life
 
As the ACP Group of States, advocate and catalyst of its 79 developing member-countries, moves to centre-stage to deepen multilateralism, a two-dimension strategy is proposed. By this means, points of convergence of achievements or success are accumulated across countries or organisations to provide a cumulative impact on any chosen indicator of one of the 17 SDGs.
 
Comparative successes of a country, community or institution in the war of ending poverty are unpacked to derive the necessary legal or normative actions fundamental for success or achievements to have been realized. Together complementary actions are formulated as a multilateral programme for voluntary adoption. Convergence of success linked to derived normative principles are fostered for cumulative impact by which, for example, actions to end violence against women or to confront trafficking in human persons provide a platform to share experiences and point to laws that need to be introduced and their execution monitored.
 
The UN Spotlight Initiative on Gender Equality, with funding of the EDF (European Development Fund) approved by the ACP Group offers itself with wide scope for this dual approach to make multilateralism a dynamic driving force in the realization of Agenda 2030.
 
Similarly, the ACP Group of States as Facilitator and Hub of South-South & Triangular Cooperation identifies practical actions of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), in its programmes within the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA +) addresses reducing global warming by efforts in the use of renewable energy. These can be linked across countries and regions so that global wide benefits are known and shared making multilateralism rooted in the everyday life of ordinary people.
 
The ACP Group of States, comprising 79 developing countries, is positioning itself to contribute as an effective player and partner with the like-minded to join forces for multilateral institutions and actions to become the drivers of action for humanity’s future that realizes justice, solidarity and respect for human rights.
 
As the unique, inter-governmental and trans-regional alliance for more than four decades in the battle to end poverty in all its forms and everywhere, the ACP Group of States will regularly renew its commitment and resolve to strengthen multilateralism and place is in the service of all peoples.
 
 
 
 


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