General Assembly Concludes New Agenda for Cities Meeting by Focusing on Role of Stakeholders in Advancing Sustainable Urbanization Policies

Local governments, civil society groups and others working to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — including its targets related to urbanization — required United Nations support underpinned by a “spirit of inclusiveness and a universality of purpose”, the General Assembly heard today, as it concluded its high-level meeting on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

“Member States are united in ensuring an effective and efficient contribution from […] the overall United Nations system to the advancement of sustainable urbanization,” said General Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) in closing remarks.  Emphasizing that “time is flying”, he echoed other speakers who underscored the massive challenges to be tackled by the New Urban Agenda in just a few short years.

Referring to the report of the High-level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance the Effectiveness of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) — the Organization’s main body tasked with urbanization issues — he said it was clear that some of its recommendations would require further discussion.  UN-Habitat’s positioning would be part of a broader package of United Nations reforms, he said, which were aimed at ensuring adequate support to the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.  All stakeholders should continue to work together to generate the consensus required to “keep the momentum going”.

Having considered the Programme’s mandates and governance structures — as well as many of the Panel’s specific recommendations — during two panel discussions yesterday, the Assembly today convened two additional panels focused on the role of other stakeholders in advancing sustainable urbanization policies.

During the first panel, moderated by Minh-Thu Pham, Executive Director of Policy, United Nations Foundation, participants considered the role of the United Nations system in implementing the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Taking part were representatives of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN-Habitat and World Bank Group, with delegates from other United Nations entities also taking the floor.

The second panel discussion cast a spotlight on the role of multi-stakeholder collaboration in implementing the New Urban Agenda and the Goals.  Moderated by Tomas Anker Christensen, Chef de Cabinet of the Office of the President of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly, it featured speakers including the Mayor of Madrid, Spain, and representatives of civil society, in addition to lead respondents from across a range of disciplines and sectors.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 7 September, to hold a High-level Forum on the Culture of Peace.

Interactive Panel III

The high-level meeting opened with an interactive panel on “Implementing the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals — the role of the United Nations system”.  Moderated by Minh-Thu Pham, Executive Director of Policy, United Nations Foundation, it featured presentations by Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice-President for the 2030 Development Agenda, United Nations Relations and Partnerships, World Bank Group; Grete Faremo, Executive Director, United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS); Grainne O’Hara, Deputy Director, New York Office, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat).

Ms. PHAM opened the discussion by asking the panellists what their respective entities were doing to help implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda, emphasizing that metropolitan areas would be central to achieving the Goals.

Mr. MARTÍNEZ-SOLIMÁN, underscoring UNDP’s perspective on poverty eradication and good governance, said the Programme focused on increasing the capacity of local administrations as well as processes for legitimate local-level elections.

Mr. GASS, noting the role of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in supporting intergovernmental process, said it brought to the table such elements as analytics and statistics on how urbanization would develop and affect other spheres.  It also supported Members States in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development review process, and facilitated work in specific areas such as transportation.

Mr. MOHIELDIN said the World Bank Group focused on identifying financing gap problems in such areas as affordable housing and resilient infrastructure.  Among other priorities, it also addressed such concerns as data provision, policy frameworks and creating enabling environments at the local level, and technical assistance and capacity-building.

Ms. FAREMO said few people knew much about UNOPS, which did only implementation tasks, such as building schools, hospitals, roads, social housing and sanitation facilities.  It did so using local labour and contractors, in partnership with Governments, other parts of the United Nations family, banks, local governments, the private sector and others committed to a more sustainable future.  She added that the Office was agreeing on a memorandum of understanding with UN-Habitat that would make it possible to take a more long-term perspective on implementation.  She went on to emphasize the value of evidence-based risk assessment.

Ms. O’HARA said two out of three refugees, and four out of five internally displaced persons, lived in cities and towns.  That reality drew UNHCR more closely into the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda while creating challenges in the way it worked.  She said the agency was working closely with UN-Habitat on such issues as shelters, upgrading refugee settlements and decent housing, as well as post-conflict return and land tenure.

Ms. KIRABO, recalling her past experience as Mayor of Kigali City, called the New Urban Agenda a tool for achieving inclusive and sustainable development.  When things went wrong, the United Nations should be there not only to save lives during a humanitarian crisis, but also to sow the seeds for post-conflict development.  Member States wanted a coordinated United Nations, she said, adding that when the Organization delivered as one in Rwanda, it worked out well.

Ms. PHAM invited the panel to discuss coordination in more detail.

Mr. GASS said the United Nations system needed to look at cities for lessons and for inspiration on how to work differently while accountable downwards.  Agencies must coalesce around local actors and learn from them.

Mr. MOHIELDIN said “we are all in trouble” if the issue of municipal finances was not dealt with correctly.  A city could have the best infrastructure, but not the finances to maintain it.  The World Bank Group had identified 19 possible revenue sources for municipalities, but only two — including central government transfers — were typically used.  That was no way to do business.

Ms. FAREMO cited the use of solar power in refugee camps in Jordan, which helped to reduce crime and improve security.  That was a small but important example of an idea which, taken to scale, could be achieved by working together.  She added that public procurement was more important than many people realized.  The United Nations spent around $16 billion on procurement, but often in a fragmented way.  Doing more together could extend sustainable development, she said, emphasizing also the importance of transparency, data sharing and access to private funding.

The representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) emphasized the contribution that migrants and other mobile people made to urban growth and prosperity.  Migration was desirable if well-governed, he said, adding that it required inclusive and comprehensive approaches.  He underscored the migration dimension and the rights of migrants and other mobile people in the context of the New Urban Agenda.

The representative of the World Food Programme (WFP) said his agency was strengthening its response in such areas as access to food in urban areas and the flow of food into cities from the countryside.  A new WFP urban food policy to be issued in February would aim to strengthen partnerships.  He went on to ask Mr. Mohieldin about the Implementation Facility for Sustainable Urban Development.

The representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said much of the United Nations work was focused on the “who”, but that it also needed to consider the “where”.  To do so would require a confluence of agencies and other stakeholders, she said, adding that UNODC was committed to ramping up cooperation with others on urban crime and security.

The representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) stressed the importance of gender-responsive implementation.  Bold gender-mainstreaming efforts were needed at the local level, she said, emphasizing also the importance of strong accountability mechanisms.

Ms. PHAM asked panellists if the current country team model was fit for purpose in terms of achieving the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. MARTÍNEZ-SOLIMÁN said that was a million-dollar question.  Complexity created coordination challenges that could be addressed through a clear policy as well as the humility to accept that others were better placed to act as coordinator.  He noted that the United Nations now had 159 resident coordinators for 161 country teams in more than 170 Member States and territories, with an average of 16 agencies represented in each country team.  Greater empowerment of resident coordinators, as well as more capacity and perhaps more funding, were needed.

Ms. O’HARA, returning to the question of coordination, said the United Nations system was perhaps a little self-critical about the lack of coordination.  “We have come a long way,” she said, citing the cluster system as an example.  The Sustainable Development Goals created more discipline when it came to common objectives and interaction with Member States.

Mr. MOHIELDIN said the World Bank supported the objective of the Implementation Facility for Sustainable Urban Development, funds for which would be drawn from existing mechanisms.

A representative of South Africa also spoke.

Interactive Panel IV

The final interactive panel focused on the theme “Implementing the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Developments Goals — the role of the multi-stakeholder collaboration”.  Moderated by Tomas Anker Christensen, Chef de Cabinet of the Office of the President of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly, it featured six panellists:  Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid, Spain; Aromar Revi, Director, Indian Institute for Human Settlements; Eugenie Birch, President, General Assembly of Partners; Maria Jose Lubertino, Executive Director, Citizen Association for Human Rights of Argentina; Hazem Galal, Cities Sector Global Leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities; and Mirella Amalia Vitale, Senior Vice-President of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs of the ROCKWOOL Group.

The session’s lead respondents were Saul Billingsley, Director-General, FIA Federation, and Executive Director, Global Initiative for Child Health and Mobility, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)-United Kingdom; Celestine Ketcha Epse Courtes, Mayor of Bangante, Cameroon; Teresa Boccia, Professor of Urban Planning, University of Naples Federico II, Italy, and Representative, Association Femmes Europe Meridionale, Italy; and Mohammed Ali Loufty, Senior Doctoral Fellow, Institute on Disability and Public Policy, and Executive Director, Arab Disability Forum, Lebanon.

Mr. CHRISTENSEN, pointing out that the panel represented a wide array of “stakeholders on the ground” who were engaged in implementing the New Urban Agenda, opened the session by asking Ms. Birch to discuss the importance of partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Ms. BIRCH responded that “we are moving now from an engagement process […] to the implementation to active collaboration”.  That was where multi-stakeholder collaboration might have the most value, she said, pointing to two self-organized multi-stakeholder collaborations — including the General Assembly of Partners, which had 16 member groups — aimed at discussing urban issues with Member States in an orderly way.  Among other things, such groups had much knowledge to contribute, could help direct the implementation agenda and could assist in monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals as they related to urban issues.

Asked how stakeholders could assist local authorities, Mr. REVI said the core issue was that of implementation.  “We have 15 months to deliver on an almost impossible new agenda”, which included delivering 500 million new jobs and universal basic education to 5 billion people, all while mitigating the impacts of climate change.  “This is a trillion-dollar agenda” on both the investment side and the output side, he said, stressing that the dramatic transformation of the new development agendas was the concept of leaving no one — and no place — behind.  To achieve those goals, integrated delivery at the local level must be combined with the strength of national Governments, which was a “new way of working” both for Member States and the United Nations.

Responding to a related question about funding for urban issues, including innovative new financing mechanisms, Mr. GALAL said the idea of public-private-partnerships should be reconceived as “properly-planned-projects”.  The private sector needed guidance as well as incentive, he said, pointing to the example of Medellin, Colombia, in that regard.  The knowledge and support of the private sector must be harnessed at an early stage in the process while simultaneously ensuring that no private sector monopolies were created.

Asked how the business community could take advantage of the opportunities presented by urbanization in a socially responsible way, Ms. VITALE said “the private sector has been forced to think differently” in the context of the new sustainable development agendas.  Recent natural and man-made disasters, including the tragic fire in a high-rise in London, showed that changes were needed.  The private sector needed to work with the public sector to strengthen regulations, she stressed, adding that citizens must also be brought into the process.

Ms. LUBERTINO, asked to elaborate further on the role of the citizen, said they had long been the pioneers and protagonists of such global movements as sustainability and human rights.  However, all citizens did not stand on an equal footing because some representative democracies “have lost their way” and were not fulfilling their responsibilities.  Changes were needed across Governments as well as at the United Nations, because changes were taking place “at breakneck speed”, she said.  Many of the local challenges faced by cities were the same around the world, including economic issues and affordable housing.  States must better regulate the relationships between markets and territorial authorities while making sure that profits benefited citizens.

Ms. CARMENA, asked how she would prefer to engage with the United Nations on those issues going forward, said the main question was whether the Organization’s work on urban issues was effective.  Noting that had not been the case to date, she said UN-Habitat must not simply engage with States but also with local governments.  A structure for that kind of interaction could be created under the auspices of UN-Habitat or as an independent body, she said, adding that while the role of the private sector was also critical, efforts must be taken to avoid corruption.  Governing at the local level meant taking into account the opinions of citizens, she stressed, noting that in Madrid town hall meetings allowed for such broad participation.

Following the presentations, the lead respondents offered their insights, with Mr. BILLINGSLEY calling for a “responsive, people-centred” delivery of the New Urban Agenda.  Noting that some 3,000 children were injured every day in road accidents around the world — many in urban areas — he said such statistics represented a “policy failure” at both the local and national levels.

Ms. BOCCIA said the idea of leaving no one behind meant that women around the world must be able to enjoy their rights.  The participation of women had been crucial to ensuring that such issues were reflected in the 2030 Agenda and must now be reflected in the New Urban Agenda’s implementation.  Indeed, strong partnerships with women, migrants and others on the ground — who had a close knowledge of the issues — were critical.

Ms. KETCHA EPSE COURTES, asked what challenges her town faced in implementing the New Urban Agenda, welcomed the proposal made by the High-level Independent Panel to Assess and Enhance the Effectiveness of UN-Habitat to establish a global assembly on urban issues with the universal participation of all United Nations Member States.  The decentralization of UN-Habitat should be rolled out across the African continent, she said, adding that “urbanization is an African issue”.

Mr. LOUFTY said that, in the context of urbanization, like in other arenas, persons with disabilities were not only recipients of their rights but also actors in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda.  “This is an opportunity for a transformation of mindset” for the promotion of inclusion, he said, including at both the micro and macro levels.  Priorities should no longer be categorized based on the interests of particular groups, he stressed, adding that persons with disabilities must not be left behind simply because countries claimed to have other priorities.  He also asked the panellists how stakeholders could better work together to ensure that “inclusion becomes a strategic choice” for all actors.

When the floor was opened for comments and questions, many representatives of Member States shared national experiences with local urban planning and policy development.  Several described their establishment of inclusive, participatory structures that had successfully linked municipal authorities with national Governments, while others spotlighted challenges — such as armed conflict, natural hazards and the exclusion of marginalized groups — where more action was needed.

Qatar’s representative, outlining the work of the Red Crescent Society in his country, said the organization carried out direct work with local communities across the Middle East and Africa.  Pointing out that conflicts added to human suffering and destroyed communities, he asked the panellists to address ways to rehabilitate cities emerging from conflict and work more sustainable in post-conflict zones.

The representative of the Philippines warned against overlooking the practical needs of Member States, including assistance and long-term guidance in the context of the current “shifting political landscape”.  Typhoon Haiyan had demonstrated the need for stronger cooperation with local governments, he said, adding that the issue of housing was absent from the High-level Panel’s report.

The representative of the Dominican Republic asked Ms. Carmena to provide more information on the concept known as the “culture of the city” and to address how it could be integrated into local planning processes.

Singapore’s representative described his country’s experience implementing the New Urban Agenda, including its recent hosting of the International Leaders in Urban Governance programme.  Carried out in several universities in Singapore in conjunction with UN-Habitat, the programme had involved participants from 42 cities and leaders representing 14 cities around the world.  Singapore had also been organizing sustainable cities summits to bring leaders from many sectors together to discuss the challenges related to urbanization as well as the peer-to-peer city leaders programme.

A representative of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network said young people often felt excluded from their Governments’ planning and asked the panellists whether and how youth were being included in the New Urban Agenda’s implementation.

The panellists then responded to those question and comments, with Ms. BIRCH noting that the interventions had all spotlighted the need for inclusive dialogue and multi-stakeholder platforms.  In that context, she stressed, partnerships needed to be smart, measurable, specific and time-limited.

Mr. REVI said that multiple levels of implementation needed to be carried out simultaneously.  Today’s partnerships needed to address the modern-day questions of how to share capacities, finances and political representation, he said, adding that those issues should be elevated to the Head of State level.

Mr. GALAL, addressing questions about the inclusion of persons with disabilities, described a positive mindset change in that area in Sochi, Russian Federation, when it hosted the Olympic Games.  However, cities did not need a major event to act as a catalyst for such a shift.  Regarding the transition from peacekeeping to post-conflict reconstruction, he said he did not yet feel that system was agile enough or business-friendly enough.

Ms. VITALE, warning that “we’ve lost sight of what success looks like”, called for goals — not just partnerships — that were smart, realistic and specific.  Urban policies should always focus on providing social and economic benefits to city-dwellers, she said.

Ms. LUBERTINO emphasized that, even as new discussions were taking place, Member States should still be encouraged to ratify international human rights treaties as well as to reform their constitutions to enshrine more inclusive policies and processes.  She also called for stronger national legislation for the provision of public services.

Ms. CARMENA said local governments were unique in their capacities and their ability to develop their own agendas.  Every national Government and municipal authority needed to deal with such local issues as traffic-accident-related deaths proactively and in a data-based manner, she said, urging them to develop solutions that prioritized prevention.

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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Guest

In a short while, I will be joined by Amin Awad, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Director for the Middle East and North Africa Bureau and Regional Refugee Coordinator for Syria.  He will here to brief you on the current refugee situation in Syria and Iraq.

**Responsibility to Protect

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at this morning’s [General Assembly] meeting on the responsibility to protect.  He said that today’s meeting comes at a time when the need for strengthened efforts to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity [is] as strong as ever.  It is time, he added, to move beyond the conceptual debate towards improved protection of people from atrocity crimes.  His remarks are available online.

**Hurricane Irma

As Hurricane Irma is moving west over the Caribbean, our humanitarian colleagues are deploying a team to Barbados today to work with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.  Additional teams are on standby to travel.  Estimates of population exposure to the hurricane could be as high as 37 million people.

In Haiti, the UN Country Team is fully supporting Haitian authorities and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [in] Haiti has also deployed staff to the northern departments of the country, which are likely to be impacted.  As for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), as you know, the drawdown of the uniform component has been almost completed, but we still have some military and police capacity on the ground.

Peacekeepers have deployed two units and some engineering capabilities to Gonaives to be ready to open the main roads to the north, north-east and north‑west, and both military and police officers are ready to be deployed in support of the Haitian National Police.

**Climate Change

And as we see more frequent and severe hurricane events like Irma, experts are gathering today at the Standing Committee on Finance Forum in Rabat, Morocco, to discuss how finance can be mobilized for infrastructure that can withstand the impact of climate change.  The Forum, which is organized by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), will bring together experts and practitioners from local and central governments, banks, UN organizations, infrastructure developers, and the financial sector, including the insurance industry.  More information on the UNFCCC’s website.

**Myanmar

Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) say they are distributing food to people fleeing from Myanmar’s Rakhine State to Bangladesh.  Some 146,000 people have crossed the border to the Cox’s Bazaar district since 25 August.  WFP has provided tens of thousands of people with food, including high-nutrient porridge to women and children who are arriving hungry and malnourished.  The agency says that it needs $11.3 million to support the influx of people, in addition to those already living in camps.

**South Sudan

Our colleagues at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) tell us that the population of the largest protection-of-civilians camp in Bentiu has fallen from around 120,000 in January to 114,600 this month.  The increase in the number of people leaving the UN protection site has been partly driven by the provision of services outside the sites.

The head of the UN Mission, David Shearer, said that humanitarian partners provide a wide range of services inside the Bentiu camp, but have now stepped up outside and are delivering some of the same services to people who are returning home.  If people are confident enough to go home, we can help them and make the transition so much easier, he said.  UN peacekeepers have also supported the provision of humanitarian assistance and conducted confidence-building patrols in areas to which people are returning.  Some 213,000 people live in 7 protection-of-civilians’ sites provided by the UN Mission across the country.

**Nigeria

Our humanitarian colleagues say that a cholera outbreak has been reported in Borno State, in north-eastern part of the country.  The first case was recorded on 16 August.  Over 530 suspected cases have now been registered as of yesterday.  That includes, unfortunately, 23 deaths, mainly in Muna Garage, a camp hosting about 20,000 internally displaced persons on the outskirts of the capital, Maiduguri.  The Nigerian authorities, along with humanitarian organizations and UN agencies, are responding to the outbreak.  And more information on the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ website.

**Sierra Leone

From Sierra Leone, half a million people in that country will now be able to access cholera vaccine within weeks.  Vaccines will be received from the global stockpile and will target areas particularly affected by August’s floods and deadly landslide, which resulted in 500 deaths.  Hundreds more people were reported missing in the wake of the disaster, while thousands were displaced from their homes.  Two rounds of vaccination are planned to run from September and will be delivered in 25 affected communities by the Government of Sierra Leone, supported by the Global Alliance, Gavi, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Kingdom Government, as well as other health partners.

**Field Support

A note that our colleague, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, is in Mali to launch a new Supply Chain Management system for all UN field offices operated through Umoja.  The new system will help streamline inventory, property and fleet management; enable global inventory visibility; improve financial compliance; and help the UN be more transparent, efficient and nimble.

**Lebanon

From Lebanon, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, extended her deep condolences today to the families of the fallen Lebanese soldiers, who were kidnapped in 2014.   She said that the servicemen will always serve as a symbol of courage, commitment and dedication to the country.  The Special Coordinator commends the Lebanese Armed Forces and the security forces in their continued efforts to safeguard Lebanon’s stability, security and territorial integrity, including from the threat of terror.

**Education

UNICEF today says that nearly zero progress has been made over the past decade in reducing the global out-of-school rate.  The percentage of 6 to 15 year olds who are out of school has barely decreased to 11.5 per cent — compared to 12.8 per cent in 2007.  Pervasive levels of poverty, protracted conflicts and complex humanitarian emergencies have caused this rate to stagnate.  Of the 123 million children missing out on school, 40 per cent live in the least developed countries and 20 per cent live in conflict zones.  However, UNICEF notes some progress in countries like Ethiopia and Niger, where enrolment rates have increased by 15 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.

**Colombia

You will have seen that yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement by the Secretary-General welcoming the announcement by the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) of a temporary bilateral cease-fire from 1 October 2017 to 12 January 2018.

**Mali

And we also issued a statement on Mali in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack carried out against a convoy of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which resulted in the death of two peacekeepers and seriously injured two others.  Khalas.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, on Myanmar, does the UN have workers, staff, within the country?  And out of these $13.3 million needed, is there a call for these funds to be found?  What is the Secretary-General doing to get these necessary funds?

Spokesman:  I think the… you will have seen that yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke at length of his concern for the situation in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State.  We do have humanitarian workers in Rakhine State, but as we flagged here a number of occasions, the security situation in the area makes it challenging for us to work there freely and without risk.  There is a UN component on the Bangladeshi side of the border, as we just said with the World Food Programme.  The Secretary-General is continuing his diplomatic contacts regarding the situation in Myanmar.  Yes, Carole?  It’s been a while.

Question:  On Myanmar, following the letter to the Security Council, what does the Secretary-General expect the Security Council to do now?  I mean, at least a meeting?  And Aung San Suu Kyi said in a statement that there was a lot of misinformation about what’s going on in Rakhine State.  I’m wondering if you feel you’re getting a lot of misinformation?

Spokesman:  I think we are… I can only speak for the Secretary-General.  He is getting information on the humanitarian situation inside the country and in Bangladesh, which he feels is reliable.  I think his statement yesterday was fairly clear and to the point as to his concern and his suggestion on the way forward.  As for the Security Council, I think the fact he wrote an official letter to the Security Council underlines how seriously he takes the situation.  We’ll have to see what the Council does.  Ali and then…

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  The US ambassador, Nikki Haley, has been fiercely criticizing UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] and its commanders, including yesterday in an article… column in The Jerusalem Post.  So, I wonder why the Secretary-General has taken a soft position on this criticism from the US ambassador.

Spokesman:  I beg to differ on your interpretation.  The Secretary-General, I think, in his last statement was very clear in expressing his confidence in the leadership of the mission.  Abdelhamid?  I’ll come back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Going back to Myanmar, is the Secretary-General aware of the severity of the atrocities committed against the Muslims?  Did he see the videos, burning people alive?  And the second question:  What did he mean by either they could grant them citizenship or at least legal status?  Isn’t that some kind of discrimination?  They are citizens.  They were born there.  They have no other…

Spokesman:  I think, first of all, I think if you read what the Secretary-General said yesterday, you will realize that he’s fully aware of the severity of the situation.  I think the point the Secretary-General is making is to give… he calls on nationality or at least some other legal status so that people can have access to basic services, as something that needs to be done with some rapidity, so people have access to health services, education services, basic social services.  Yes, sir?  And then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Please allow me two questions on the Cyprus issue; is that okay?

Spokesman:  I always enjoy getting questions on the Cyprus issue.

Correspondent:  Thanks.  Two weeks ago…

Spokesman:  I do.  I don’t have much to say, but I enjoy the questions.  Sorry, go ahead.

Correspondent:  Hopefully, you do have something to say, because it’s a very important problem.  I hope so.

Spokesman:  No, I do.  I don’t mean to make light of it.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Two weeks ago, Farhan [Haq] said:  “We’re in a period of reflection and a period of cooling off.  After that, we certainly hope and expect the parties would come back ready to talk to each other.”  This is what he said.  The President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. [Nikos] Anastasiades, indicated several times that he’s ready to talk once Mr. [António] Guterres’s framework is accepted by all parties.  On the other hand, Turkey continuously issues legal notices, violating the Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, and also restricts the Greek Cypriots to visit some of their churches in the occupied area.   Under the circumstances, which prevent their reunification of Cyprus, how could the General Secretary develop any potential?  Are the United Nations still classifying the Cyprus problem as a problem of Turkish integration and incubation and not just a problem between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots?  Do you want me to go to the second one?

Spokesman:  I think that’s quite a lot there to digest.  I think… the Secretary-General’s position remains unchanged.  I think he was very clear at the end of the talks in Crans-Montana that he is waiting.  It’s a period of reflection, and it’s now up to the parties to come back to him, and then decisions will be made on the next step and the way forward.  I’m not going to get into the details of things that may be happening now on the ground.  What is important for the Secretary-General is that a solution be found to the so-called Cyprus problem, and as he said, he… we continue to be in a period of reflection.  And let’s see what happens.  But, his good offices remain available.  And your second question?

Correspondent:  Okay.  Four Cypriot members of the European Parliament sent a letter to our colleagues, wondering about Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide’s role in Crans-Montana.

Spokesman:  Mister whose role?

Question:  Mr. Eide.

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.

Question:  Okay.  More particularly, they said the following question:  “Would you accept the invader to keep troops on your land and to guarantee your citizenship and rules of law as Mr. Eide was pushing Cyprus to do?”  We know that the letter was copied to the Secretary-General.  How does the General Secretary respond to this?

Spokesman:  I don’t know if the Secretary-General has received the letter.  I think he was very thankful and supportive of the role that Mr. Eide played.  His role was as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to help with the discussions.  They were not being led by the UN.  They were being facilitated by the UN.  As to what may have been said or not been said within the talks, we have no… I have no comment on that.  But, Mr. Eide’s role was to be the Special Envoy.

Question:  Do you see any potential, Stéphane?  That’s the question.

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  For the Cyprus issue.  Do… does the General Secretary… the Secretary-General and the United Nations, can they see any potential?

Spokesman:  Well, as we said, we’re… the process, as participated in… with by the Secretary-General in Switzerland, did not end in a way that we would have all have liked, which was to find a solution.  We’re now in a period of reflection, and we’ll wait to see what the parties decide.  Is that a viewfinder?  Is that a laser tag?  Is that a…?

Correspondent:  Whatever it takes to get answers, but it’s to improve your audio quality.   Thank you, welcome back and it seems to me that of 21 questions submitted to you in writing, you answered three.  So, I’m going to ask two now.

Spokesman:  That’s a pretty good average for me.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay, well, let’s start.  So, in Togo, when you left, there had been the shooting of protesters by the Government and you or Farhan said that Mr. [Mohamed ibn] Chambas was going.  So, can you now… now that there’s a protest there today, and… and quite a bit of crackdown, slowing down and turning off of the Internet, can you say if Mr. Chambas has gone and what the UN has done?

Spokesman:  Right.  I’ll get… I don’t have an update on his travels.

Question:  Okay.   On Cameroon, I had asked you in writing yesterday, the school… the school year opened and the Government used live bullets and, in fact, one student has been very publicly killed.  Some other civilians were shot.  So, I wanted to know.  I saw the statement that was put out on the release of some of the political prisoners.  What is the UN’s… what does it think of this seemingly ongoing standoff and…?

Spokesman:  We’re aware of those reports and we’re looking into them.

Correspondent:  And I wanted to ask you, I’ve… there’s a… what seems… a self-described UNHCR community protection officer on Facebook has… from Cameroon has called the protesters terrorists, and has said that there should be an even more harsher crackdown on them.  So, many people are up in arms about that.

Spokesman:  I don’t… I’ll look into it.  I’m not aware.  Pam?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.   The Secretary-General yesterday said at the stakeout that, “I have signaled to the parties on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] my availability to support any serious efforts.”  Can you be more specific of what those signals were?  And has there been any response?  Is there an effort by the Secretary-General to mediate, as Switzerland proposed, some kind of talks?

Spokesman:  I think what the Secretary-General was saying is that he has told the parties, he’s signaled to them, that he is available.  His good offices are available.  He… there’s no proactive effort to mediate.  He’s available.  As… as with any time with his good offices, they have to be… all the parties involved have to, you know, agree for him to participate so that it’s constructive.  So, that’s where we stand.  There have been contacts… there have been various contacts.  We saw the public comments made by the Russian Foreign Minister earlier today on welcoming the Secretary-General’s statement, and let’s see where things go.

Question:  But, Ambassador [Vasilly] Nebenzia yesterday said he welcomed even the Swiss; whoever can do it, he said, it would be good.  Is there any… any response from anyone?  And is there a reason the Secretary-General wouldn’t be more proactive in trying to get these talks going?

Spokesman:  I think he is being proactive in signaling his availability.

Question:  And any response?

Spokesman:  Not that we can emerge with at this point.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, I wanted to ask about this event on UN reform during UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] week.  How is this political declaration on supporting the SG’s efforts at reform going to help him in reforms?  And the Secretary-General is, we understand, supposed to address this event.  Can you… can you tell us more about it?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that the Secretary-General will address this event, which has been sponsored by the United States.  I think it’s very important for the Secretary-General to participate and hear from all the Member States who are interested in reform and this is part of that ongoing conversation.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, back to Myanmar.  Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized by the international community for not speaking up in the wake of these crimes that are taking place in Rakhine State and against the Rohingya.  What does the Secretary-General think of her?  Has he spoken to her at all during this last couple of…?

Spokesman:  I think I would refer you to what the Secretary-General said yesterday on the issue, but yes, he’s been both in phone and in correspondence with her.  And then we’ll go to our guest.  Go ahead, Matthew.

Question:  Well, I guess on UN reform, I wanted to ask you.  In the continued release of exhibits by the prosecution in the Ng Lap Seng/John Ashe case, photos have emerged of current UN security officers that accompanied John Ashe not just to the Macau conference, but to another trip that he made prior to that, one in which he charged $60,000 to unveil the UN flag.  And I wanted to know:  What is the responsibility of UN security officers?  I know that some are assigned as close protection.  But, what is, internally to the UN at a minimum, what is their responsibility to report if they engage… if they observe and witness corruption in front of their face?

Spokesman:  Well, their main task is to protect the people.  Obviously, I can’t speak to the specific event, because I don’t know what was seen and what wasn’t seen, but obviously, we all have the same duties as staff members.

Question:  But, if somebody commits, I mean… Is there a written rule…?

Spokesman:  I’m just saying…  I think every staff member has the same responsibility.  Amin.  Let’s… we’ll go to our guest now.  Thank you.

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Development deficit feeds Boko Haram in northern Cameroon

One of the main reasons Boko Haram has been able to gain a foothold and recruit thousands of young people in the Far North Region of Cameroon is its relative lack of development and employment opportunities.

Since Boko Haram began to launch attacks in northern Cameroon in 2014, more than 2,000 people have been killed and at least 155,000 forced to flee their homes.

While the Far North Region has always been poorer than most of the rest of the country, it until recently boasted a vibrant cross-border livestock trade and a burgeoning tourism industry. The onset of conflict led to the closure of the Nigerian border, slashed the price of cattle in half, scared tourists off, and, because of large-scale displacement, badly affected agricultural productivity.

The government’s failure to make good on promises to boost development as a way to deter people from joining the insurgency risks perpetuating instability in the north, experts say.

“People are disappointed,” a researcher at the University of Maroua, the main town in the Far North Region, told IRIN, referring to the glacial pace of change. He asked not to be identified by name for fear of repercussions resulting from criticising the government.

Projects supposedly underway include: a 78.9 billion CFA franc ($143 million) territorial development programme announced in 2014 for the three regions in the north of the country; a three-year national emergency plan unveiled in 2015 with a budget of 925 billion CFA francs of which just 42 billion francs was earmarked for the Far North Region; a 5.3 billion CFA franc plan to rebuild schools and hospitals in the region, also unveiled in 2015; and a 102 billion CFA franc project targeting young people across the country, announced by President Paul Biya in December 2016.

Aside from a few new classrooms, feasibility studies, surveys and some construction material for road projects, and the arrival in Maroua of several contractors, there’s little evidence of progress.

“Sometimes people just say things to calm things down,” the researcher said. “In the long term, this can only radicalise people – as they understand that the promises were just tricks – not necessarily to [join] Boko Haram but to oppose the government.”

Boko Haram had already established logistics bases and begun recruiting in the Far North Region in 2011, gathering “support among disaffected youth… through the use of ideological indoctrination, socio-economic incentives and coercion,” the International Crisis Group said in a report published last November.

While the government has enjoyed significant military successes against Boko Haram, “the weak point of Cameroon’s response remains the lack of commitment to development initiatives” as well as a lack of counter- and de-radicalisation programmes, the report said.

“Poverty, low levels of literacy and school attendance pushed people to join Boko Haram. They became easy prey. It was just a like a job for them,” Ariel Ngnitedem, an economist and lecturer at the University of Yaounde II Soa, told IRIN, adding that young will remain vulnerable to recruitment if the government fails to deliver.

“[The] government has been promising to offer more than Boko Haram,” Ngnitedem said. “If it fails, the youth will likely join any other radical groups that may emerge after Boko Haram is conquered. The youth fighting for Boko Haram have no political agenda.”

Stalled projects

According to a recent evaluation conducted by a monitoring committee, local contractors in the Far North Region failed to deliver 50 construction projects awarded to them in 2016 and in the first quarter of 2017.

“Projects are awarded through tenders,” explained the university researcher. But “the bidding process is not often transparent and projects are awarded to companies that lack the capabilities to execute them.”

The follow-up committee, headed by a local MP, Zondol Hersesse, met in July and found that 80 percent of the projects scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2017 had yet to be delivered. Some hadn’t been done at all or were poorly executed, while others had been completely abandoned.

According to a document prepared in 2016 by the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, the far north’s Diamaré division had 15 undelivered projects, Mayo-Sava had 12, Mayo-Tsanaga nine, Mayo-Kani seven, Logone-et-Chari four, and Mayo-Danay three. These projects included rural electrification, building and maintenance of schools, rural roads, multimedia centres, hospitals, and infrastructure for other social amenities.

Bouakary Hamadou, a civil society activist, pointed the finger at the region’s local elected officials.

“They take public offices for banquets,” he said. “They are not accountable. Why do we have abandoned projects when the mayors are supposed to follow up public works?”

Another bone of contention, according to Hersesse, the MP on the monitoring committee, is that contracts worth a reported half trillion CFA francs ($900 million) have been awarded to Chadian companies on the grounds that local Cameroonian firms lack the requisite expertise.

“Those companies would return to Chad with money which would have been used to develop the economy of this region,” he said.

The committee’s report recommended setting up a capacity building workshop for contractors and mayors, and called on smaller local companies to join forces in order to be able to win and properly execute public contracts.

Boko Haram still a threat

In his New Year’s Eve address to the nation, President Biya sounded triumphant.

“I can safely say that in 2016, this terrorist group was driven to the wall. There seems to be hope that this shady terrorist group may not recover from the setbacks it has suffered. However, there is a need to remain vigilant; the possibility of isolated suicide attacks, like that of December 25 cannot be ruled out,” he said.

It was therefore time, he added, to ramp up internal security, reconstruct, organise the return of displaced persons, and revive the local economy.

“To that end, the state will do its utmost, while counting on the dynamism of the people and support from development partners.” he said.

But since that speech, Boko Haram has carried out attacks, often using suicide bombers, almost on a daily basis. In one recent incident, on 24 August, some 16 people were killed in Gakara, a village near the Nigerian border.

Two days previously, nine people were killed and 11 injured in an attack on the town of Amchide.

Job opportunities

While the government drags its feet over its development projects, outside agencies have been active in the far north, notably financing large-scale manual labour schemes for the construction of wells and minor rural roads.

Agencies involved in such projects include the UN Development Programme, the French Development Agency (AFD), and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ).

AFD, for example, works together with the Cameroonian government in 11 local council areas in the Far North Region to provide work for 1,000 marginalised people. One third of each participant’s salary is lodged in a savings account at a microfinance institution, allowing them to build up capital lost during the conflict.

CARE International, meanwhile, helps participants with vocational projects designed to ease their economic reintegration.

Ten million euros from the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund aims to allow such schemes to expand and give work to 3,500 young people in the region.

“Employing the youth prevents them from getting into prostitution, stealing, and other bad things,” Ahmadou Yahyah, who runs a small tailor’s business in Maroua thanks to a GIZ-funded initiative, told IRIN. “Without a job, I could have become a burglar. Now I am busy. I can’t join Boko Haram or any gang.”

ms-am/ag

Read More

Development deficit feeds Boko Haram in northern Cameroon

One of the main reasons Boko Haram has been able to gain a foothold and recruit thousands of young people in the Far North Region of Cameroon is its relative lack of development and employment opportunities.

Since Boko Haram began to launch attacks in northern Cameroon in 2014, more than 2,000 people have been killed and at least 155,000 forced to flee their homes.

While the Far North Region has always been poorer than most of the rest of the country, it until recently boasted a vibrant cross-border livestock trade and a burgeoning tourism industry. The onset of conflict led to the closure of the Nigerian border, slashed the price of cattle in half, scared tourists off, and, because of large-scale displacement, badly affected agricultural productivity.

The government’s failure to make good on promises to boost development as a way to deter people from joining the insurgency risks perpetuating instability in the north, experts say.

“People are disappointed,” a researcher at the University of Maroua, the main town in the Far North Region, told IRIN, referring to the glacial pace of change. He asked not to be identified by name for fear of repercussions resulting from criticising the government.

Projects supposedly underway include: a 78.9 billion CFA franc ($143 million) territorial development programme announced in 2014 for the three regions in the north of the country; a three-year national emergency plan unveiled in 2015 with a budget of 925 billion CFA francs of which just 42 billion francs was earmarked for the Far North Region; a 5.3 billion CFA franc plan to rebuild schools and hospitals in the region, also unveiled in 2015; and a 102 billion CFA franc project targeting young people across the country, announced by President Paul Biya in December 2016.

Aside from a few new classrooms, feasibility studies, surveys and some construction material for road projects, and the arrival in Maroua of several contractors, there’s little evidence of progress.

“Sometimes people just say things to calm things down,” the researcher said. “In the long term, this can only radicalise people – as they understand that the promises were just tricks – not necessarily to [join] Boko Haram but to oppose the government.”

Boko Haram had already established logistics bases and begun recruiting in the Far North Region in 2011, gathering “support among disaffected youth… through the use of ideological indoctrination, socio-economic incentives and coercion,” the International Crisis Group said in a report published last November.

While the government has enjoyed significant military successes against Boko Haram, “the weak point of Cameroon’s response remains the lack of commitment to development initiatives” as well as a lack of counter- and de-radicalisation programmes, the report said.

“Poverty, low levels of literacy and school attendance pushed people to join Boko Haram. They became easy prey. It was just a like a job for them,” Ariel Ngnitedem, an economist and lecturer at the University of Yaounde II Soa, told IRIN, adding that young will remain vulnerable to recruitment if the government fails to deliver.

“[The] government has been promising to offer more than Boko Haram,” Ngnitedem said. “If it fails, the youth will likely join any other radical groups that may emerge after Boko Haram is conquered. The youth fighting for Boko Haram have no political agenda.”

Stalled projects

According to a recent evaluation conducted by a monitoring committee, local contractors in the Far North Region failed to deliver 50 construction projects awarded to them in 2016 and in the first quarter of 2017.

“Projects are awarded through tenders,” explained the university researcher. But “the bidding process is not often transparent and projects are awarded to companies that lack the capabilities to execute them.”

The follow-up committee, headed by a local MP, Zondol Hersesse, met in July and found that 80 percent of the projects scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2017 had yet to be delivered. Some hadn’t been done at all or were poorly executed, while others had been completely abandoned.

According to a document prepared in 2016 by the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, the far north’s Diamaré division had 15 undelivered projects, Mayo-Sava had 12, Mayo-Tsanaga nine, Mayo-Kani seven, Logone-et-Chari four, and Mayo-Danay three. These projects included rural electrification, building and maintenance of schools, rural roads, multimedia centres, hospitals, and infrastructure for other social amenities.

Young men in the Far North Region of Cameroon
Jean-Sebastien Munie/OCHA
Development would deliver much needed jobs to the Far North Region

Bouakary Hamadou, a civil society activist, pointed the finger at the region’s local elected officials.

“They take public offices for banquets,” he said. “They are not accountable. Why do we have abandoned projects when the mayors are supposed to follow up public works?”

Another bone of contention, according to Hersesse, the MP on the monitoring committee, is that contracts worth a reported half trillion CFA francs ($900 million) have been awarded to Chadian companies on the grounds that local Cameroonian firms lack the requisite expertise.

“Those companies would return to Chad with money which would have been used to develop the economy of this region,” he said.

The committee’s report recommended setting up a capacity building workshop for contractors and mayors, and called on smaller local companies to join forces in order to be able to win and properly execute public contracts.

Boko Haram still a threat

In his New Year’s Eve address to the nation, President Biya sounded triumphant.

“I can safely say that in 2016, this terrorist group was driven to the wall. There seems to be hope that this shady terrorist group may not recover from the setbacks it has suffered. However, there is a need to remain vigilant; the possibility of isolated suicide attacks, like that of December 25 cannot be ruled out,” he said.

It was therefore time, he added, to ramp up internal security, reconstruct, organise the return of displaced persons, and revive the local economy.

“To that end, the state will do its utmost, while counting on the dynamism of the people and support from development partners.” he said.

But since that speech, Boko Haram has carried out attacks, often using suicide bombers, almost on a daily basis. In one recent incident, on 24 August, some 16 people were killed in Gakara, a village near the Nigerian border.

Two days previously, nine people were killed and 11 injured in an attack on the town of Amchide.

Job opportunities

While the government drags its feet over its development projects, outside agencies have been active in the far north, notably financing large-scale manual labour schemes for the construction of wells and minor rural roads.

Agencies involved in such projects include the UN Development Programme, the French Development Agency (AFD), and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ).

AFD, for example, works together with the Cameroonian government in 11 local council areas in the Far North Region to provide work for 1,000 marginalised people. One third of each participant’s salary is lodged in a savings account at a microfinance institution, allowing them to build up capital lost during the conflict.

CARE International, meanwhile, helps participants with vocational projects designed to ease their economic reintegration.

Ten million euros from the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund aims to allow such schemes to expand and give work to 3,500 young people in the region.

“Employing the youth prevents them from getting into prostitution, stealing, and other bad things,” Ahmadou Yahyah, who runs a small tailor’s business in Maroua thanks to a GIZ-funded initiative, told IRIN. “Without a job, I could have become a burglar. Now I am busy. I can’t join Boko Haram or any gang.”

ms-am/ag

Cameroon far north Analysis Aid and Policy Conflict Politics and Economics Northern Cameroon’s dangerous development deficit Mbom Sixtus IRIN MAROUA Africa West Africa Cameroon

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Development deficit feeds Boko Haram in northern Cameroon

One of the main reasons Boko Haram has been able to gain a foothold and recruit thousands of young people in the Far North Region of Cameroon is its relative lack of development and employment opportunities.

Since Boko Haram began to launch attacks in northern Cameroon in 2014, more than 2,000 people have been killed and at least 155,000 forced to flee their homes.

While the Far North Region has always been poorer than most of the rest of the country, it until recently boasted a vibrant cross-border livestock trade and a burgeoning tourism industry. The onset of conflict led to the closure of the Nigerian border, slashed the price of cattle in half, scared tourists off, and, because of large-scale displacement, badly affected agricultural productivity.

The government’s failure to make good on promises to boost development as a way to deter people from joining the insurgency risks perpetuating instability in the north, experts say.

“People are disappointed,” a researcher at the University of Maroua, the main town in the Far North Region, told IRIN, referring to the glacial pace of change. He asked not to be identified by name for fear of repercussions resulting from criticising the government.

Projects supposedly underway include: a 78.9 billion CFA franc ($143 million) territorial development programme announced in 2014 for the three regions in the north of the country; a three-year national emergency plan unveiled in 2015 with a budget of 925 billion CFA francs of which just 42 billion francs was earmarked for the Far North Region; a 5.3 billion CFA franc plan to rebuild schools and hospitals in the region, also unveiled in 2015; and a 102 billion CFA franc project targeting young people across the country, announced by President Paul Biya in December 2016.

Aside from a few new classrooms, feasibility studies, surveys and some construction material for road projects, and the arrival in Maroua of several contractors, there’s little evidence of progress.

“Sometimes people just say things to calm things down,” the researcher said. “In the long term, this can only radicalise people – as they understand that the promises were just tricks – not necessarily to [join] Boko Haram but to oppose the government.”

Boko Haram had already established logistics bases and begun recruiting in the Far North Region in 2011, gathering “support among disaffected youth… through the use of ideological indoctrination, socio-economic incentives and coercion,” the International Crisis Group said in a report published last November.

While the government has enjoyed significant military successes against Boko Haram, “the weak point of Cameroon’s response remains the lack of commitment to development initiatives” as well as a lack of counter- and de-radicalisation programmes, the report said.

“Poverty, low levels of literacy and school attendance pushed people to join Boko Haram. They became easy prey. It was just a like a job for them,” Ariel Ngnitedem, an economist and lecturer at the University of Yaounde II Soa, told IRIN, adding that young will remain vulnerable to recruitment if the government fails to deliver.

“[The] government has been promising to offer more than Boko Haram,” Ngnitedem said. “If it fails, the youth will likely join any other radical groups that may emerge after Boko Haram is conquered. The youth fighting for Boko Haram have no political agenda.”

Stalled projects

According to a recent evaluation conducted by a monitoring committee, local contractors in the Far North Region failed to deliver 50 construction projects awarded to them in 2016 and in the first quarter of 2017.

“Projects are awarded through tenders,” explained the university researcher. But “the bidding process is not often transparent and projects are awarded to companies that lack the capabilities to execute them.”

The follow-up committee, headed by a local MP, Zondol Hersesse, met in July and found that 80 percent of the projects scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2017 had yet to be delivered. Some hadn’t been done at all or were poorly executed, while others had been completely abandoned.

According to a document prepared in 2016 by the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, the far north’s Diamaré division had 15 undelivered projects, Mayo-Sava had 12, Mayo-Tsanaga nine, Mayo-Kani seven, Logone-et-Chari four, and Mayo-Danay three. These projects included rural electrification, building and maintenance of schools, rural roads, multimedia centres, hospitals, and infrastructure for other social amenities.

Young men in the Far North Region of Cameroon
Jean-Sebastien Munie/OCHA
Development would deliver much needed jobs to the Far North Region

Bouakary Hamadou, a civil society activist, pointed the finger at the region’s local elected officials.

“They take public offices for banquets,” he said. “They are not accountable. Why do we have abandoned projects when the mayors are supposed to follow up public works?”

Another bone of contention, according to Hersesse, the MP on the monitoring committee, is that contracts worth a reported half trillion CFA francs ($900 million) have been awarded to Chadian companies on the grounds that local Cameroonian firms lack the requisite expertise.

“Those companies would return to Chad with money which would have been used to develop the economy of this region,” he said.

The committee’s report recommended setting up a capacity building workshop for contractors and mayors, and called on smaller local companies to join forces in order to be able to win and properly execute public contracts.

Boko Haram still a threat

In his New Year’s Eve address to the nation, President Biya sounded triumphant.

“I can safely say that in 2016, this terrorist group was driven to the wall. There seems to be hope that this shady terrorist group may not recover from the setbacks it has suffered. However, there is a need to remain vigilant; the possibility of isolated suicide attacks, like that of December 25 cannot be ruled out,” he said.

It was therefore time, he added, to ramp up internal security, reconstruct, organise the return of displaced persons, and revive the local economy.

“To that end, the state will do its utmost, while counting on the dynamism of the people and support from development partners.” he said.

But since that speech, Boko Haram has carried out attacks, often using suicide bombers, almost on a daily basis. In one recent incident, on 24 August, some 16 people were killed in Gakara, a village near the Nigerian border.

Two days previously, nine people were killed and 11 injured in an attack on the town of Amchide.

Job opportunities

While the government drags its feet over its development projects, outside agencies have been active in the far north, notably financing large-scale manual labour schemes for the construction of wells and minor rural roads.

Agencies involved in such projects include the UN Development Programme, the French Development Agency (AFD), and the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ).

AFD, for example, works together with the Cameroonian government in 11 local council areas in the Far North Region to provide work for 1,000 marginalised people. One third of each participant’s salary is lodged in a savings account at a microfinance institution, allowing them to build up capital lost during the conflict.

CARE International, meanwhile, helps participants with vocational projects designed to ease their economic reintegration.

Ten million euros from the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund aims to allow such schemes to expand and give work to 3,500 young people in the region.

“Employing the youth prevents them from getting into prostitution, stealing, and other bad things,” Ahmadou Yahyah, who runs a small tailor’s business in Maroua thanks to a GIZ-funded initiative, told IRIN. “Without a job, I could have become a burglar. Now I am busy. I can’t join Boko Haram or any gang.”

ms-am/ag

Cameroon far north Analysis Aid and Policy Conflict Politics and Economics Northern Cameroon’s dangerous development deficit Mbom Sixtus IRIN MAROUA Africa West Africa Cameroon

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Uncategorized