Our Africa Regional Director, Nnenna Nwakanma, shares her reflections from the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD3) in Addis Ababa.
In 2008, it was the sandy city of Doha, Qatar, that hosted the second International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD2). I recall the beautiful ride from the hotel to the conference center via the Corniche and the imposing building, one of them housing the Al Jazeera offices.
In Addis, the scenario was a bit different. While I was given an “official” welcome in Qatar, in Addis I could not even pick up a visa easily, let alone have the pleasure of picking up my bag on arrival. And that is not the only way Addis was different from Doha.
This time, the financing for development conference was held in a low-income country
The first difference is the one that “meets the eye”. The poverty in Addis is on the street – literally. No matter how much effort the government had made in moving beggars away from the conference venue, homeless Ethiopians were there. No matter what part of the city you visited, it was impossible to run away from the misery of Ethiopians. It was fitting in a way, because unlike Monterrey and Doha, we discussed financing for development not far from the poorest of the poor.
But the local population was still not necessarily engaged or aware of the event. For Muhab, the friendly driver who who took me around, the acronym “SDG” did not mean anything, and he did not really care.
“Do you use the web?”, I asked.
“Yes, madam. I am on Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp. I need to look for passengers all the time. For me, it doesn’t matter what meetings they hold at the United Nations. If the meetings bring passengers, fine. I just care for passengers, because I need to feed my family.”
We need to ask ourselves how we make these discussions reach those whose lives we want to impact.
Civil Society was well-organised, and we saw increased participation from the Global South
Civil society was remarkable in its convening and collaborative effort. After hosting a two-day meeting for participants, we were effective in making our voice heard. The most active, granted, were organisations based in the developed countries. However, there was an increase in the participation of organisations based in the Global South, particularly from Africa. The relative close proximity and easy access to Addis Ababa may have played a crucial role in this. Whatever the reason, I noticed that an NGO based in Ijebu Ode, Nigeria, had a delegation of at least seven.
The message on the importance of data for transparency and measuring development was heard
The public announcement of a Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data may well have been the most important highlight of the FFD3 meeting. This was new, something happening… and the movement is embracing stakeholders from all walks of life. I was impressed by how much importance was given to data, to statistics and to the measurement and implementation of agreed plans.
Openness in data was highlighted as a key component of sustainable development in a panel session with the likes of Nigerian Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Administrator Helen Clark of UNDP, Helen Clark and Dana Hyde, CEO of the US’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
By the Wednesday afternoon, the Web Foundation was proud to join a group of over 25 organisations including governments, businesses, civil society, multilateral organisations, academia, and foundations came together as Champions towards the official launch of the global partnership during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting in September. This brings us closer to our push to get more governments behind Open Data for development.
The international community is – frustratingly – still failing to make meaningful progress on tax evasion
Whether or not the FFD3 was going to adopt a global tax body under the United Nations was long debated. Proponents were from Civil Society and the G77 and, for a few sessions, the debate went on. But by Wednesday evening, all that proponents of a new body could get in response to their tax evasion concerns was language in paragraph 29 of the outcome document merely increasing the frequency of annual UN meetings on tax issue from 1 to 2.
In this article, Tove Ryding, of the European Network on Debt and Development has been quoted as saying “developed countries celebrated the fact that nothing will change”. So I, on behalf of the Web Foundation, joined the Civil Society’s Transparency, Accountability and Participation (TAP) Network to protest right in front of the main hall where the Addis Ababa Action plan was adopted.
Negotiations continued right down to the wire and fell short of many of our hopes
The spirit and shadow of the 2015 United Nations’ General Assembly – UNGA and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) hovered over Addis from Day 1 to Day 4. Though it was not officially articulated, the FFD of 2015 is being judged by its ability to finance the SDGs which will be adopted by September.
I am not convinced that Transparency, Accountability, and Participation (TAP) are mainstreamed enough.
In Addis Ababa, like the famous long-distance runners of Ethiopia, the negotiations of the FFD3 document went down to the wire, crossing the finishing line just in time. The SDGs are set to go down almost in the same way.
I left Addis. I have started preparing for New York in September. The taste from the conference is still in my mouth. The taste that is half distaste, quarter disenchantment and quarter deja-vu. To the family that sleeps on the streets in Addis Ababa, it was “one of the UN meetings” and because they happen so often at the United Nations Conference Centre, locals have come to adopt the attitude: “after the security lockdown, life will will get back to normal”.
In truth, by Day 3, the security lockdown had already relaxed and Addis was starting to get back to normal.
By Friday morning, Addis had gone back to its old self. Things remained normal, and that was why I tweeted:
I wasnt in Monterrey, Mexico. I was in Doha, Qatar I'm in Addis, Ethiopia. My conclusion is same: Work on your poverty yourself first #FFD3
— Nnenna (@nnenna) July 16, 2015
But our call is not to let things remain normal. Our collective mission is to bounce back and bring key issues back to the table. The outcomes of FFD3 may not have been satisfactory. They may have even been disappointing, but it is our duty to keep fighting. Our support to rigorous measurement of agreed terms and engagement with open data is crucial going forward. We must maintain pressure for transparency, economic justice, an end to tax evasion, social rights. For billions who continue to live in poverty, for Muhab, for his family, we must keep the pressure on through the UN General Assembly and beyond.