Development issues form common ground

When leaders of the two regions meet for their first Summit of South American-Arab Countries in Brazil on Tuesday, most of the issues – political, social and economic – will sound a familiar beat for the two sides.

First world progress has cost the developing world, experts say
First world progress has cost the developing world, experts say

Sustainable development will also be brought to the fore.

Both regions in the past century have fought and suffered under western colonial influences, only to win liberty at a price.

Enrique Ganuza, chief economist at the regional office of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Havana, Cuba, says the two regions are still fighting the influence of western hegemony, and this legacy has deformed progress for the regions in matters of sustainable development.

“As much as Europe, Asia, the United States has moved into the 21st century, the Latin and Arab worlds have suffered from their progress – because it has been done at our expense, our resources, human and economic, being utilised for their progress,” he told

He speaks at length on the South American “wars” of the 1970s and 80s, and especially how successive US administrations, (notably the Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan presidencies), interfered in the region. He draws parallels to US interference in Iran, Egypt, and now, in Iraq.

“They have been a major cause of [the lack of] our progress. As much as we can look to the past and blame outside forces, I believe it is a worse situation still in the Arab countries; it is up to us to pull ourselves into the 21st century,” he says.

The UN millennium development goals, drawn up by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000, identified eight key aid areas for Africa, the Arab world and South Americas.

Key aid areas

Since these goals (right) were identified, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has produced widely acclaimed human development reports and indexes, that have gone into examining these issues at greater length. 

The goals were to:

* Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

* Achieve universal primary education

* Promote gender equality and empower women

* Reduce child mortality

* Improve maternal health

* Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases

* Ensure environmental sustainability

In South America, each country has had its own development report card, says Ganuza, and the issues have tended to look at economic ills, acknowledging that South America has been progressing politically better than others.
The summation of these reports, says Ganuza, is that “South America cannot count on foreign aid to help it reach the millennium development goals. It is starting to sustain itself.”

Political causes
Despite recent progress, Ganuza believes gets, sustainable development cannot be effected solely on the strength of economic growth, because the gap between rich and poor remains the biggest hurdle for South America. 

Poverty and ways of overcomingit will be discussed at the summit

Poverty and ways of overcoming
it will be discussed at the summit

“The problem again is back to the political level, but one of focusing on how to achieve economic goals through politics,” he adds.
The inference he makes, is that the problem in the Arab world is primarily political.
Dr Rima Hunaidi, a former minister in Jordan and the recent head of the Arab affairs directorate at UNDP, agrees.


Dr Hunaidi produced the first development reports for the Arab world which looked at the UN development goals and tried to assess quality of life levels. Her reports sparked much debate.

“The issues facing the Arab world are one of freedom and political destiny. What choices are the Arab people making? What choices are its leaders making? How do they wish to be governed? Why are they being governed so badly?” she tells

The report and a successive report produced in 2004, found that for a region richly blessed with one of the world’s most valuable commodities, oil, and with its people heirs to a rich cultural, religious and linguistic heritage, the Arab world has stagnated.

“This freedom deficit undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development”

UN report

Lack of freedom, knowledge and women’s rights were holding the Arab world back from greater development, and from reaching its full potential in comparison to other nations.
“This freedom deficit undermines human development and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development,” the report stated.

The report noted that in many Arab countries, poverty and illiteracy had reached staggering levels; health care had deteriorated significantly in some countries; human rights abuses were widespread and continuing (jails were full with prisoners of conscience) and freedom of expression was confined to empty promises.


The 2003 report concluded “the global wave of democracy had barely reached the Arab states”.

The South American and Arab world summit is hoping it can learn from these deficits and gain from each other’s strengths, says Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League.

Speaking ahead of the summit, he told “South America and the Arab world are developing economies.

“We are establishing relations with those countries through the democratic means, and whatever [issues] democracy will bring up to the fore [we will deal with that].”

He also says: “There must be a lot of trade between the two, because there’s a lot the Arab world can give to South America and vice versa.”

Says Dr Hunaidi: “What we suffer from now, they [South America] suffered in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. They have managed to overcome – and they still overcome –  political strangulation. They do not accept anything but to be governed wisely.”


Mr Ganzula concurs, that likewise, the South American countries must forge closer ties, especially economic, with the Arab world.

“While much has been wasted politically [in the Arab world], economically, we can learn how to enhance our business developments, like in the Gulf Arab countries.

“If we [South America] attack the problems of inequality, the growth rates necessary to achieve many of the millennium goals will be much more normal,” he adds.

Next September, the UN General Assembly will hold a special session to assess the progress made towards compliance with the UN development targets, but the South American and Arab regions are hoping that their first meeting will allow for an exchange – political, economic and social – that will go far in helping to meet these goals and sustain progress.

Source : Al Jazeera

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