Interview with Asha Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN
Since 2007, since she became the first woman and the first African to be nominated Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, she is at the apex of her political career. At least for now, because it would not come as a surprise if she would soon return to Tanzania to run for president, for example.
In Kishwahili, the language commonly spoken in Tanzania, East-Congo and Kenya, one would address a person with such a curriculum as mzee, an expression of respect for elder, wise or highly placed people. But “mzee” is a male politeness form, and gender is a sensitive issue on Migiro’s political agenda. ‘You can call me Mama Migiro’, says the vice-secretary general with a smile. ‘That’s the way we show our respect to women.’
Asha Rose Migiro: Empowerment of women is one of the central objectives in my assignment within the United Nations. Women are indispensible players in our development goals, but at the same time they have to face several challenges because of their sex. What the UN does, is trying to increase their participation in decision making processes, in solving development questions and in addressing problems they face, such as large child and mother mortality, especially in the least developed countries.
… and sexual violence against women and girls?
Asha Rose Migiro: That is indeed a crucial theme. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched Unite against Violence, a campaign based on certain UN resolutions who called for more attention for violence against girls and women and aimed to involve them in the peace and reconciliation process. Preventing violence becomes increasingly important, because the problem is no longer limited to domestic violence or culturally embedded violence.
More and more, sexual violence is used as part of a war strategy. That is why we stress the importance of gender training, civilians’ protection and legal reforms to ensure functioning of the legal state in our preparatory trainings before our peace missions.
How come sexual violence against women and girls appears to be so persistent?
Asha Rose Migiro: One of the main causes is a wide spread mentality problem. The good news is that measures are being taken. European Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner has continuously put sexual violence on the agenda, American Minister of Foreign Affairs Hillary Clinton and her predecessor Condoleezza Rice keep on emphasising how important it is and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf dedicated a special conference on the issue. I attended a meeting in New York myself, where the UN, the African Union and the EU brought the subject to the attention.
You refer to women only. Is sexual violence a women’s theme?
Asha Rose Migiro: Definitely not. But as they say: the one who wears the shoe, knows where it hurts. There is sufficient support from men in key positions, demonstrating that the whole society is involved. Ban Ki-moon has created a network of male leaders in the framework of his Unite against Violence-campaign. The president of the African Peace and Security Commission of the African Union subscribes to this campaign, just like the secretary-general of the League of Arabic states. In other words, violence is not a woman’s problem but a society problem, which calls for joint efforts – it takes two to tango.
Another one of your priorities is streamlining the UN’s work in the development countries.
Asha Rose Migiro: The different sub-organizations and branches of the UN should better cooperate in order to be able to play our role in the development countries more effectively and more efficiently. This is a very important objective. Food insurance, climate change, peace and security: these are all challenges which require a common and joint policy.
If the UN want to continue to be relevant in the future, their branches and organizations should not act as separate entities, each trying to achieve its own goals and implement its own programmes. The child which should be going to school, is also entitled to have access to health care, which has to do with income and poverty reduction.
In eight countries, we have a pilot project running to test this new delivering-as-one-approach, in countries like Tanzania, Mozambique, Ruanda en Cape Verde. The first results are promisingly positive and indicate that it should not be so hard, as long as there is a will to change and progress.
The UN keep mentioning the millenium goals, even if we know by now that most African countries will not meet these objectives in 2015.
Asha Rose Migiro: It is true that Africa faces considerable difficulties to meet these objectives, even if there are other continents and regions where they face problems. At the same time, you can see also African countries which proved to be able to achieve good results if own resources and external aid and means are being applied in an effective way. And if they can get the financial, technological and other support of the richer countries.
Malawi, for example, has made huge progress in the area of agricultural productivity. The policy choice to support small scale farmers has resulted Malawi to evolve from a country which was exposed to the risk of starvation to a food-exporting nation in five years time. Not only food insurance, but also wages are increasing, as do the children’s chances on getting education. In Ruanda, as many girls as boys go to school and in a short period of time, gender equality has been reached in politics.
In Tanzania, important progress has been made in increasing the number of children’s primary school attendance, while efforts are being made to reduce mothers’ and infant mortality. Gabon scores well in combating analphabetism. Ghana has realized a significant decrease of its poverty figures. And so on. Using these best practices as a basis for more millennium goal achievements, this should be the aim.
Of course this will be quite a challenge, now the global economical crisis has undermined or even set back the small achievements accomplished over the past ten years.
Asha Rose Migiro: The financial crisis has also proven that it is possible to engage an enormous amount of money, as long as there is a political will to do so. This opens new perspectives for the development sector. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has used every form available to warn the World not to forget the low-income countries and their millennium goals.
Some development countries ask that the rich countries would award them one percent of their economic stimulation funds, to help them solving the crisis. And in the framework of the ongoing climate negotiations, all the development countries ask for important additional means to finance the necessary climate measures. At the same time, the rich countries are still miles away from the long promised 0.7% for development aid.
Asha Rose Migiro: Firstly, I would like to stress that African countries should realise that they should do everything to finance their own development. The fact that Africa has seen a growth of its GDP by seven percent has surely contributed to raise their awareness. Secondly, there are indeed the promises made in Monterrey (the 2002 UN-conference on the financing dvelopment aid, where the earlier made promise to spend 0.7% of the GDP was renewed), the promises made in Gleneagles (where the richest countries committed to award an additional amount of 25 billion dollar to African development aid by 2015), and the promises of the G20 in London (where 1,100 billion dollar was awarded to anti-crisis measure, out of which only 50 billion was destined for the least developed countries). Political leaders do realize that additional funds are required. And some countries managed to achieve, or even exceed the 0.7 objective.
The Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo proposes to abolish the development aid in stead of increasing it. According to her, the aid is part of the problem.
Asha Rose Migiro: I don’t believe that aid should necessarily be a problem. A number of African countries did succeed to use the development aid effectively and invested it to create progress. Tanzania, for instance, has applied the fund it was awarded to build its infrastructure and stimulate the economy. Schools and hospitals have been built with that aid.
What is crucial, is an efficient spending of each euro invested. UN institutions, governments, banks and other organizations have put up great efforts increasing the outputs of the development investments. If donor countries would adjust their actions to the plans and policies of the receiving countries, which would themselves guarantee a more efficient, transparent and democratic application of these fund (in other words: increase the level of good governance), there should be room for improving cost-efficiency.
African governments are implementing a system of mutual evaluation, aiming to stimulate all countries to govern better and to ensure that their natural resources are well applied. Through these measures, it should be possible today to ensure a better and more effective development aid than before. Aid should not be abolished, it should be better and more efficiently used.
You emphasis a lot the made progress, but of course this doesn’t change the fact that the real life situation of many Africans is still tough.
Asha Rose Migiro: It is also important to show the whole reality, and to do justice to all of the good things happening and the people who work hard to achieve them. Over the past years, more conflicts have been solved than there were created in Africa. The situation in Sierra Leone is vulnerable, but stability grows. The same goes for Liberia.
In Ivory Coast, elections are being prepared. The problems in Kenya have been decreased thanks to the fast and adequate interventions of the neighboring countries. Burundi and Ruanda seem to have calmed down. The period when coups were daily phenomena in Africa has long passed us, nowadays, democratic elections are given a chance. But these processes are given less attention.
Who is reporting on the successful elections in Tanzania? Why is there no attention to the fact that all presidents Tanzania has known conducted the power peacefully to their successors and continued to live in their country? It is true that the situation in Congo is still far from being resolved, but the UN, the EU and countries like Belgium are doing everything to help the country to achieve progress.
Congo is a huge country which has lived through decades of economical and political mismanagement and where at the moment no functioning infrastructure is available. The fact that the elections went through was a milestone, an important breakthrough. The elected government enables donor countries to extend their cooperation with Congo.
The big challenge remains to appropriately use the potential wealth which their natural resources could generate, and I know that Belgium and the UN are deeply involved in the efforts to achieve that.