The Nairobi Mafikiano and Nairobi Azimio give the UN Conference on Trade and Development a new and strengthened mandate to deal with matters of trade and development and related issues of finance, investment and technology. UNCTAD will also play a central role within the UN community in championing Agenda 2030 on sustainable development for the less developed global south going forward.
On a related note, the Kiswahili-worded outcomes from the meeting held in Nairobi last week may be a pointer on the need to include Kiswahili as the seventh UN official language. Kiswahili is the most widely spoken local language south of the Sahara with more than 100 million speakers across countries in Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Mozambique, Burundi and DR Congo.
UNCTAD rightly recognised that for many developing countries, the benefit from globalisation falls short of expectation. Instead, globalisation may be a threat to developing states that have opened local markets without the capacity to access foreign markets. The lack of capacity to access foreign firms is compounded by non-tariff barriers, that essentially, and perhaps deliberately, lock out access to produce from the less developed south from reaching the more developed north.
Even as the role of agencies such as UNCTAD remains critical, even more critical is the need for countries to promote domestic investment as the cornerstone of development. There is need to shift the focus from relying on global agencies in meeting local needs based on their assessment and instead give higher priority to local solutions based on the the experiences of the hustler in Gikomba. Policies need to be deliberately locally specific and sufficiently patriotic in addressing the challenges of the domestic investor. In general, adequate response to the needs of the domestic investor spurs the confidence of the foreign investor that there is adequate capacity and motivation to respond to business needs in general.
Globalisation means the economic development focus may need to change from survival and poverty alleviation to participation in the global economy, competitiveness and finding market niches. Then later go beyond short-survival issues to economic issues that lie at the basis of underdevelopment, and are hence more inclusive and progressive. For instance, with the local success in the social goals of financial inclusion and access, the economic goals of affordability of credit is important to move businesses from informal players to formal players with the capacity to compete in the global market and to create living-wage employment.
Even as the global south seeks a fairer share of the benefits of globalisation, countries retain the responsibility of ensuring their policies do not undermine local development efforts. It is time that African countries enquired from themselves why it is perhaps only Africa that imports everything imaginable including toothpicks and breadcrumbs. Consequently the manufacturing sector has stagnated in the recent years and youth unemployment is rising.
Karen Kandie is a financial and risk consultant with First Trident