SDG advocate: ‘Development projects cannot be designed in Brussels’

Dr Alaa Murabit [UN Photo]

Development is not a one-way street, rather it is a dialogue, according to SDG advocate Dr Alaa Murabit. She told EURACTIV Germany that she supports the EU’s Consensus on Development but warned against making investment conditional.

Alaa Murabit is a doctor and founder of NGO Voice of Libyan Women, which champions women’s rights and development. Born and raised in Canada, she relocated with her family to Libya at age 15. There she studied medicine at the University of Azzawia, where she was the first female member of the student council. She is one of 17 Global Sustainable Development Goal Advocates appointed by the United Nations.

Murabit spoke with’s Nicole Sagener.

You’re one of the SDG’s official advocates. Over 18 months since the goals were adopted, do you still think they are sufficient?

The SDGs are a real blueprint for our society and how we can develop, showing on what we should focus and what action we need to achieve. The objectives cover all aspects of development and society. Indeed, there is no other way than to place these goals at the centre of what we do.

If we keep accepting that 99% of the world’s population has the same amount of wealth as the remaining 1% and that eight people have more than 300 million others, then we are continuing to accept fatal injustices. Our financial systems are unjust, our health systems are unjust, our international commitments are not necessarily fair either. The SDGs have to be the mission. And we have to talk to people, explain to them the goals and their background, so as to raise awareness about them.

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Talking to people, understanding their attitude and accepting their opinions is crucial to forming a consensus. How should politicians bring the SDGs to everyday citizens?

I always feel that you have to talk to people, ask them questions but you don’t always have to tolerate all their views. Step one always has to be listening to people, so you can understand their background, motivations and worries. The Millennium Development Goals made progress. But they weren’t the great success we had hoped for because they prescribed too many things unilaterally. We have to be able to say that the same guidelines that apply in Uganda and Ghana are also applicable in Germany and New York. None of us live completely sustainable lives. So how can we best learn from and support each other?

The European Commission has played a unique role in this. Europe has done some very brutal things to humanity in the past, as well as some very positive ones. Globally, we see too little commitment but Europe is moving forward, which is commendable. Unfortunately, the continent is anything but united.

What are the biggest challenges facing Europe and this inner strife?

I don’t expect united action from European countries but I do from the Commission. Europe is not homogenous. Just as women’s rights movements do not always agree with one another. I would argue, for example, that my homeland, Libya, has more in common with Italy than Norway.

But the EU leadership has to back the things it has agreed upon. We have to go to the European Parliament and tell them ‘you voted for it, now do it’. The new European Consensus on Development, which has just been signed, is a promising step. But it can’t all be done just with a pen and paper, it has to be implemented too.

What is missing from the new Consensus? It will focus on economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development but health is missing, for example.

That’s right, it is missing points like health. Nevertheless, the Consensus is a great sign from the Commission that the sustainability goals have its full backing. What is largely lacking from it, though, is a tangible plan. But I hope that it will be developed in the coming months.

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Let’s talk about practical changes. The Commission’s new approach is to concentrate on investments from private companies and donors. This has garnered a lot of criticism, as it supposedly neglects people from poorer local communities.

There is a historical reason why people are critical of private partnerships. But the situation is different now from the 1950s and 1960s, when the state was still fully responsible for all aspects of daily life. Today, there is no such dependency and that is translated into the economy. Our global economy, as well as sectors like healthcare, is characterised by private stakeholder involvement. So we have to bring them on board. To do otherwise would be unrealistic. But the fact that public-private partnerships are seen as philanthropic frustrates me. Private companies are in to reap the benefit but they also bring improvements to regions and their inhabitants.

What role should the state and NGOs play?

The state must play an important role and should take the lead on development. And it is in the best interests of states to guarantee a good life for its citizens in order to preserve both their legitimacy and security. Security is not just about surveillance and bombs, it’s also about education, health and infrastructure.

NGOs and local civil society are just as important here because they really understand the situation on the ground. Development projects cannot be designed in Brussels, they have to be drawn up in situ. For example, since 300 million girls around the world cannot go to school, it is often not because parents do not want them to attend, it is because there is no safe way to get there or the facilities are simply not available.

EU ministers pledge more efforts for Africa partnership

EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg Monday (19 June) committed to working closely with their African partners for an “ambitious and successful” EU-Africa summit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on 29 and 30 November, with “Investing in Youth” as the central theme.

Faced …

How do you assess German Development Minister Gerd Müller’s Marshall Plan for Africa? African Union and government representatives complain that the plan was not developed through a genuine dialogue.

The reality is that Europe was built thanks to Africa, because it grew largely thanks to the resources that came from Africa and Latin America. So long as historical injustices go unacknowledged, it is unfair to dictate how a country should conduct itself. It is dishonest and shows a lack of awareness about history.

We cannot paint a picture that shows some countries are not as developed as others. Many countries have it difficult because they have been exploited for so long and colonisation was, in some cases, in place until just a few decades ago. Instead of saying ‘you have to do this and this and then we’ll invest’, those countries that have exploited others in the past should say ‘how can we help you to create and develop better governance?’.

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