MICs in southern Africa exchange notes on common concerns

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MICs in southern Africa exchange notes on common concerns

THE SouthernTIMES Mar 19, 2018

    > Andreas Thomas

    Windhoek – Middle-income countries (MICs) in Southern Africa this past week met the United Nations entities in the region to share experiences and identify areas of potential collaboration.

    T

    he experience sharing forum, held from 19 to 20 February in Swakopmund, Namibia, was part of the UN Development Group (UNDG) support for MICs to address various developmental challenges and help them beyond per capita income.

    The middle-income countries are those countries with a per capita gross national income between US$1,026 and $12,475. In Southern Africa, Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are middle-income countries, with the latter three registering a per capita income over US$3,946 per year (upper-middle income group).

    But despite high per capita gross national incomes, absolute and relative poverty, low human development and high unemployment remain major challenges in many MICs.

    It is against this background that the Regional United Nations Development Group (R-UNDG) for Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) and Western and Central Africa developed a strategy of support for MICs on the continent.

    “In order to monitor the strategy, the R-UNDG agreed to undertake periodic reviews of the strategy, including through experience sharing among the middle-income countries in the region, according to Leila Pakkala, the R-UNDG champion for MICs in eastern, southern, western and central Africa.

    As the international community was identifying new development goals - the sustainable development goals (SDGs) ‑ and ways of financing them through the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, Pakkala said there were two main reasons that led the R-UNDG to develop the strategy of support to MICs.

    First, is the acknowledgement that middle-income countries have specific opportunities and challenges to achieve the internationally agreed development goals. 

    And the most important reason is the recognition that the UN system needs to overcome some challenges to add value in middle-income countries.

    “In short, the recognition that as a system, we need to collectively do a better job to respond to the specific needs of people and government in middle-income countries,” she said.

    And this was the purpose of the forum in Swakopmund, “to share experiences and document best practices on constraints and potential opportunities for effective UN system support to national efforts in MICs”, Pakkala said during the opening of the forum on Monday.

    Main challenges besetting MICs include constrained financial and human resources due to lower funding for offices in middle-income country contexts and reduced opportunities for resource mobilisation due to limited donor-presence and a minimum level of official development assistance.

    The issue of official development assistance is a bone of contention, as MICs like Namibia complain that the use of GDP as a measurement of economic prosperity does not reflect the realities on the ground.  

    Following their elevations to middle-income status, most donor agencies have been scaling down on their assistance to countries like Namibia.

    President Hage Geingob has argued on different platforms, including at the UN, against the measurement of economic growth based on GDP, saying most of the poor people in the world live in middle-income countries, hence the need for aid to continue flowing.

    In July 2016, Geingob told the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) that inequality is increasing worldwide and the categorisation of countries as middle-income countries creates a wrong impression that these countries can stand on their own and do not need international support.

    “This categorisation of countries that simply divides GDP into population and achieves high per capita income does not take into account wealth distribution that has become a key issue of discontent globally.

    “It is impossible to capture the developmental status of a nation in one single denominator such as GDP per capita.

     Of great concern is that average income does not reflect distributional issues.

    “A country may through rapid GDP growth graduate from low-income into middle-income status but all citizens may not necessarily share such growth. 

    Income generation or growth that is not shared is not a sustainable growth.

    “Middle-income countries should be given assistance by UNCTAD, commensurate with their needs. Therefore, Namibia cannot support efforts to exclude middle-income countries from UNCTAD’s assistance,’’ he remarked.

    For instance, six of the world’s 10 most unequal countries are in Africa – Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and the Central African Republic – with all but the latter (Central African Republic) being middle-income countries, according to UN.

    Anita Kiki Gbeho, Namibia’s UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, has acknowledged that Namibia’s classification as a Middle-Income Status country continues to be a topic of debate.

    Speaking during the forum, Gbeho noted that Namibia’s MIC status “has called for a shift in the way we ‘do business’ as the UN, towards a more strategic progamming approach to support Namibia’s war on poverty and inequality,” she said.

    Nonetheless, Gbeho said the UN Team never tires of telling Namibia’s good stories including that the country “has affected one of the fastest reductions in poverty on the continent and has managed to slightly reduce inequality while growing its gross national income”.

    However, despite this remarkable progress and MIC status, she said Namibia remains one of the most unequal countries in the world with Gini coefficient of 0.572. She said these are common challenges that other MICs in the region are grappling with.

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