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President Uhuru Kenyatta faults UN Africa spending, urges reform

Nairobi, Kenya: Africa needs trade partners, Uhuru says as he criticises West President Uhuru Kenyatta renewed his onslaught against the West, accusing it of hypocrisy and double standards in dealings with Africa.

Uhuru mounted the global stage at the ongoing UN conference in Nairobi from where he attacked the international community, particularly Europe and the US, for patronising Africans, retreating on globalization and shortchanging the continent on trade deals.

He also criticized the United Nations for spending billions of dollars on programmes in which African leaders had no input and whose impact was not evident. “The UN spends billions of dollars on peace-keeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and South Sudan. But after spending all these billions, what impact do they have?” Uhuru asked.

“Why don’t you just ask us how we can find solutions to these problems rather than spending billions to pay salaries to UN agencies and buying big cars?” President Kenyatta said, drawing applause from delegates attending the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

“After all these billions (spent), there is really nothing that changes yet it would have translated to much more for our people,” said the President, who was a panellist on the second day of the conference at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre.

The UN spent about Sh850 billion last year alone on peace-keeping missions around the world, including in Somalia, South Sudan and DRC.

The Head of State regretted that the West was now running away from globalisation (the process by which world economies are becoming interconnected) from which they had benefited.

“And the most interesting thing is that as Africa moves, we are seeing the rest of the world retreat. As Africa advances, we are seeing the rest of the world that has benefited from globalisation all these years now retreating to become more internal in their own things,” he said, adding that for globalisation to truly work, “it must work for all of us”.

That globalisation has come under attack was demonstrated recently when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

And Donald Trump, a presumptive presidential candidate for the Republican Party in the US, has also been pushing for protectionist policies as a means of saving American jobs.

During the World Trade Organisation meeting in Nairobi last year, developed countries were also accused of subsiding their farmers, thus making it hard for agricultural products from Africa, such as cotton, to get into those markets. Yesterday, the President said the same transparency demanded of Africa must be embraced by the West.

“There was an argument many years back, that the problem in implementation was lack of democracy, lack of accountability on the part of largely African countries. Over the last 15 to 20 years, this continent has changed. Democracy is deeply embedded in most of Africa. Governments are becoming more accountable and more transparent. Civil society is having a much greater and open role. Our budgets are open. And we are beginning to implement mobilisation of domestic resources,” he said.

President Kenyatta went on: “We now ask them: how do you come and partner with us? How do you join us? Let us move from excuses and blame games to negotiation.”

On the panel was Namibian President Hage Geingob, Ugandan Vice President Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and his Comoros counterpart Djaffar Ahmed Said, and UNCTAD Secretary General Mukhisa Kituyi.

Mr Geingob also rapped the UN agencies for helping to write reports in beautiful English but doing little else in implementation.

Uhuru told the meeting that the UN and the West must think of working with African leaders, adding that the continent was the next growth frontier following a slowdown among developed nations.

“It is us who know the real needs of our people. Our people do not eat conferences,” he said, before calling for the UN to change the way it works.

His remarks appeared to rattle Roberto Azevêdo, the director general of the World Trade Organisation, who told African leaders off, saying there was a price to pay to achieve development.

AVOID NARRATIVE

“Africa should avoid this simple narrative; development is not the sum of one of two things,” said Mr Azevêdo, adding that development was the product of a lot of hard work.

The WTO boss told the leaders to be realistic as development would not come for free and that Africa could not afford to block the rest of the world in its push to achieve growth.

About 7,000 leaders from around the globe are attending the six-day meeting whose theme is ‘From Decision to Action: Moving towards an inclusive and equitable global economic environment for trade and development.’

At the heart of the conference is how to jump-start the global economy through enhanced international trade. Many African countries have taken a major hit from the slump in commodity prices, including oil.

Dr Kituyi, who is a former Kenyan trade minister, called for increased trade among African countries and reduced reliance on markets in the developed nations.

A lot has changed in Africa over the last 15 years, Uhuru said, citing that democracy was deeply embraced in most countries. It was therefore unnecessary for Western nations to patronise Africa and rather look at the leaders as equal partners in tackling challenges including diseases and poverty.

“This is a great opportunity to partner with us to eradicate hunger and disease by empowering our people, not patronising Africa,” he said.

President Kenyatta also joined other African personalities such as Edward Ssekana in encouraging intra-African trade. He urged African countries to increase and boost trade between themselves as this was one of the ways of dealing with the challenges of development that bedevil the continent.

Kituyi noted that people were becoming disillusioned with the rising income inequality.

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