Presidential advisor: Youth bulge could be a ‘threat to stability’

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A growing youth population in much of the world poses a potential threat to stability because there may not be enough jobs to go around, says Garry Conille, special advisor to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Garry Conille is an advisor to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a co-chair of the UN panel on the post-2015 development agenda. Conille was prime minister of Haiti in 2011-2012.

He spoke to EURACTIV Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.

Can you reveal how the discussions that led to the Report of the high-level panel went? Did they just aim at improving the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), based on the lessons learnt? Or did they perhaps question what is wrong in the world in general, hasn’t the Western civilisation become too greedy, isn’t it consuming too much?

I’m not sure the panel approach did it that way. I think the first thing they looked at were the MDGs. The lessons from the MDGs, and they looked at how the world had changed, and what would be the core elements we would want to see in a new framework, based on what we learned from the MDGs, and where the world is now.

But not only where the world is now, but where we can anticipate the world would be in 2015 and by 2030. This was quite an interesting task, not just to look at the immediate issues, but try to look forward. A good example of that is the "youth bulge". The panel anticipated that at current trends, we would have a huge youth population, which could also be a potential threat to stability, because these hundreds of millions of young people that would be ready for the job market would not have jobs.

So that was essentially how the panel framed the discussion.

To what extent was the discussion influent by the current crisis? I’m asking also because in the EU today combating youth unemployment has been identified as a priority. Maybe this is the reason why the panel speaks of “universal” goals and targets?

Absolutely. Things that happen in Europe were also part of the considerations in framing the new agenda. And the second issue that was important was this massive consultation, with really thousands and thousands of people and organisations that brought their concerns and their visions how they see the future.

And from the perspective of my boss, President Sirleaf, she was very interested to understand where Africa stands on the issue, she was very interested to understand where women stand on the issue, and she was very sensitive to where the youth are on the issue. So that had a very large influence on framing her own thinking as well, because these things are important to her region.

So that was essentially the way we discussed it. I don’t think any time was spent allocating blame.

The panel’s report recommends 12 universal goals and 54 national targets. How were those targets and goals agreed?

That was one of the biggest challenges of the panel. I think they dealt with that in several ways. I think they tried to differentiate from a larger list of things that are extremely important, and focus on certain things were the global effort brings additional value. The panel doesn’t say that only what is in this document is important. It says what is in this document needs global effort.

But the goals also allow for space for each independent country to make its own decisions regarding what’s strategic, what’s important, what are the priorities.

Also, the panel has made the distinction between what is too much, what is not enough, what is strategic and important for the world. I think the Parliament has found that balance in the report they are proposing. And we will have to see what follows, because this is one contribution to the Secretary General of the United Nations’ report. The open working group will be tasked with producing a final report. The Secretary General will be submitting to the General Assembly [in September] some version of this report. So there is still a process in place.

In my sense, this document will evolve in the next year and a half. But it’s a very good first start, in terms of where we are and how the next set of goals and the next agenda should look like.

How did the panel approach the issue of human rights?

This was extremely important to the panel, actually, and was discussed intensively. Not only because you had really strong human right advocates within the panel, but also through the different consultations. There is a strong narrative that tries to highlight issues that may not be measurable, but are of significant importance. When you take the report as a whole, you will see that the panel was extremely sensitive to the issue of human rights and felt it should be fundamental to everything else that was going to be achieved.

You can see it in the goals themselves, in the attempt to reach out to the most vulnerable, you can see it in a lot of the social indicators, you can see it in the economic efforts. But I’m sure the panel leaves room for others to build on what has been achieved here.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of the three co-chairs of the panel. This is probably not by chance, as under her leadership her country has developed quite remarkably, economically and socially. How was she selected?

I don’t know what the [UN] secretary general has used as a criterion to identify the 27 [authors of the report]. I think he wanted large representation, and certainly wanted a balance. This panel has, for example, more women than men [14 to 13]. He wanted regional balance, and of course, knowledge and commitment to the issues.

It’s also important to recognise that the African Union has also appointed President Sirleaf as chair of the high-level committee that is focusing on the African common position for the post-2015 agenda.  And it’s also true that President Sirleaf is a well-recognised leader on issues of development. And you are right, Liberia has made significant progress over the past few years under her leadership.

As you say, there were three co-chairs in the panel. The president of Indonesia [Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] also brought an incredible level of knowledge, credibility, experience and network, and of course so did Prime Minister [David] Cameron of the UK. All of whom are strong leaders, personally involved in the process of preparing a document that met the expectations of the UN secretary general.

You are from Haiti, a country needing all the help it could get, not only humanitarian and emergency aid, but also for its development…

That’s why this was a particularly important assignment for me. This agenda will have direct implications on the development of countries like mine in the future.

This is also because the report focuses on the importance of in-country resource mobilisation. It recognises that countries are first and foremost responsible for their development. It also recognises that the international community has some responsibility and that the world needs solidarity, but it places the burden of change on national governments. And I think this is something for which we in the development world have fought for.

It also emphasises the fact that we need to work together to fight the illicit capital flight, on better management of national resources, on improving the capacity of national governments to increase their national revenues. So from the perspective of a country like mine, a fragile state, it adds value to the strategic thinking process of which we are part.

Even seen from satellite, Haiti shows how wrong things can go in the world. The right side of the island, which is the Dominican Republic, is green, but the left side, Haiti, is yellowish and looks like a desert.  How much did environmental concerns weight in the panels’ work?

I’m very impressed you know that and you are completely right.  The worst part is that in 1940 Haiti and the Dominican Republic had the same green coverage, about 40%. And today the Dominican Republic still has 40% and Haiti has less than 2% green coverage. It’s the same about economic growth. The Dominican Republic has gone from about $600 per capita in 1960 to over $2.500, whereas Haiti has actually gotten poorer. You are right in saying that Haiti begs the question what went wrong.  And it’s a complex answer, certainly one we’re still trying to answer ourselves.

There have been a whole set of factors, including several natural disasters, including the most recent earthquake; there has been political unrest, and this is why President Sirleaf as part of the G7+ [a voluntary association of countries that are or have been affected by conflict and are now in transition to the next stage of development]  has been pushing for the consideration of security issues as key to the development paradigm.  And the G7+ has an agenda they are proposing to the world, so that the international community can come together around fragile states in a very strategic way. Hopefully the post-2015 will incorporate the situation of countries like mine.

Do you have political ambitions in your country?

I have been Prime Minister , I spent my nine months of Prime Minister [2011-2012} and I came out the experience, committing to work for my country. For politics, one should never say never. But probably not.

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