Nosh Nalavala in conversation with Ambassador Jean- Francis Zinsou, Permanent Representative of Benin to the UN
Nosh Nalavala: Ambassador, as head of the LDC Group, could you tell us the achievements of the Group in tangible terms?
Ambassador Jean-Francis Zinsou: The group has been working steadfastly to bring forward its priorities.
Q: And what are the priorities?
A: The priorities are the assets of the Istanbul Programme of Action (IPoA). We are in a very favourable position. We had a Programme negotiated in 2011 with a clear determination and vision of halving the number of LDCs by 2020. And we set eight priorities, with a focus on productive capacity. There are a set of activities; mainly infrastructure and how to activate the national endowment of countries to generate more value locally, countries to become part of wealth-creation activities by connecting to value chains, by putting in place activities that will empower their population to achieve social and economic transformation. LDCs are countries performing at low equilibrium — by performing poorly they create poverty every day. What we want to change is social transformation that will shift the population towards higher productivity. This will create more wealth locally and increase the overall revenue of LDCs.
Q: Under your leadership, how is the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action progressing?
A: I am very optimistic. I just attended the Asia-Pacific LDC Conference. It showed me that governments of both the Asia and the Pacific are to set to pursue realistically the goal of graduation by 2020 as determined by the IPoA. This is proof that the ideas outlined in the IPoA are being taken as a part of national strategies. I also noticed that leadership is working on this basis. What we are looking for is to change the reality on the ground.
Q: As a follow-up, are there any new measures you are initiating towards strengthening the implementation process for LDCs?
A: Yes, we are. As Chair of LDCs my job is to make LDCs understand the vision of IPoA. That is precisely the reason why Benin organized in July last year a ministerial conference dedicated to the issue of productive capacity. We call it New Partnerships for Productive Capacity Building in the LDCs. Experts came from partner countries to discuss the constraints of LDCs and help remove bottlenecks. We later went to the World Bank and IMF and told them that whenever an LDC country wants to initiate a project, it has good prospects of development. It would have a multiplier effect of productive capacity projects.
Q: When you say a multiplier effect are you talking about South-South cooperation as well?
A: South-South cooperation is a major factor. We are also focusing on North-South cooperation, so that our partners can deliver on their commitments. About 70% of resources come to the LDCs from official development assistance (ODA). LDCs are pushing the developed countries to reach the 0.7% of the GNI. We are also calling for triangular cooperation. We would like to see South-South cooperation connected to North-South cooperation.
Q: As we transition from the MDGs to the SDGs, do you see a major shift in the fortunes of the LDCs?
A: Earlier it was very difficult to talk about the eradication of poverty. We always talked about reduction of poverty by half under MDGs. The LDCs were not able to accomplish the goals. Under SDGs, eradication of poverty has been set as a goal for sustainability and we have set goals to eradicate poverty in the next 15 years and the LDCs stand to gain from these goals. With the SDGs we are changing the scope of mobilization to tackle the major problem for LDCs, which is poverty.
Q: While LDCs come under your area of jurisdiction, do you also share initiatives with LLDCs and SIDs, many of them LDCs?
A: Countries in special situations have special needs and those situations have to be addressed in a specific setting. The IPoA is designed to address the constraints of LDCs. LLDCs have problems with remoteness and being land-locked and SIDS with Climate Change. Since they have special needs, they have special projects. I believe that all three programmes should be implemented in synergy.
Q: Could you talk about the impact of climate change on women in LDCs. And as a follow up, what is the government of Benin doing to assist women during floods and coastal erosion?
A: Climate change is affecting LDCs drastically. In Benin we had a lot of fishermen in the past, but today they have disappeared. Earlier, men brought in fish, and the selling of fish was done by women. This made the villages prosperous. But today it is not so, because the landscape has changed due to coastal erosion. Erosion is also impacting cities. Houses are falling into the sea due to land erosion.
Q: Is the government doing any kind of adaptation?
A: Yes, with the help of our partners in Kuwait, from the Emirates, we are building ‘epis’, meaning building docks to cut the streams and reinforcing coastal areas. It is a billion dollar project
Q: Is the government giving any microfinance to people affected?
A: Microfinance is a major tool for the eradication of poverty and Benin has a very high return rate. We have built all over the country microfinance institutions centralized by a Ministry and we have streamlined this activity.
Q: What is being done for women in other LDCs to combat the impact of climate change?
A: We are working with UN agencies like UNCDF to initiate programmes amongst marginalized communities. The programme is called ‘local’. This is a programme that is driven by communities through local funding facilities put into place by respective LDC governments. Financing for Clean Development, the Green Fund for Climate Change, are some of the programmes.
Q: Which are the countries benefiting from these programmes?
A: Bangladesh has successfully implemented the programme in two ways: they have brought together communities and also entire regions have benefitted from these programmes. This helps local communities to get financial assistance directly from the Funds towards mitigation and adaptation. This empowers communities. Mali, Ghana and Benin — all have benefited from these programmes. When we assess the clean development mechanism, we find that LDCs do not benefit from it, because they do not have the capacity. That is why under SDGs we feel the communities will be empowered by building resilience against the impact of climate change.
Q: You have talked about ODA. Should LDCs move away from ODA and focus on sustainable development?
A: This is an important issue, because ODA needs to be adjusted in the framework of sustainability. Funding for SDGs remains a major issue, but also the means of implementation. We think that ODA will be better used to catalyze activities that can be game changers for LDCs. We need to focus on activities that are value-added at local level, activities that have a multiplier effect. ODA should be used to accelerate growth in the LDCs. LDCs are opening up to new partnerships for social and economic transformation by productive job creation.
Interview first appeared in the UN publication THE COMMITMENT