'Back to the future': SID President Amb. Juma V. Mwapachu interviewed

In this interview Amb. Juma Mwapachu, President of SID and former Secretary General of the East African Community, reflects on the historical moment we are currently witnessing, the major economic and political changes that occurred at global level in the last decades and the emergence of new competing ideas about development. He suggests that given the current context, it is crucial for SID to bring the issue of relevance back to the heart of the development debate and help contribute to achieving social justice  for a  more equitable and humane world.  

Q. What role do you see for an organization like SID after 50 years

A. SID grew over the last 50 years on the North-South Dialogue model:  committed to bridge the gap between the rich North and the poor South. When it was founded in 1957, the faultline between North and South was much heightened and visible. Today, in the context of globalization, the world is much more integrated economically and the language of north/south is losing its tenacity. We are witnessing a reformulation of development thinking with the emergence of new competing ideas. Despite the collapse of the socialist ideology, state capitalism is once again re-emerging (as a result of the economic and financial crisis). As a matter of fact, the BRICS’ economies (Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa, India) are witnessing a large role of the state sector. Even within the World Economic Forum, the question of state capitalism and its ascendancy has become a central feature of development thinking. Given such a context, where does SID lie? SID is an honest broker of ideas about development. Its fundamental role is to contribute to clarifying how a more equitable and humane world driven by social justice can be built and influence/advise the policy framework to achieve it.

Q. Aren’t there other actors playing a similar role in the development community? What makes SID different? 

A. There are a number of actors but they are very much involved at sectorial levels. SID’s major differentiation is its approach:  looking at ideas in terms of their holistic nature and impact.  We need to be clearer about this difference of role and thinking! 

Furthermore and different from many other NGOs (especially in the South) which often have a political agenda and even ideological connotations, SID aims to be an honest and independent broker. SID comes, so to speak, onto the global stage with clean hands to the conversation and therefore is very neutral. This is its advantage. In the changed world context, SID needs to find new spaces of engagement and other players to collaborate with in order to help develop ideas that are more relevant. The issue of relevance is a critical one: Ideas of development today can neither be too ideological nor romantic; they must be relevant, meaning that they must have a socio-economic impact. 

Q. Could you give a concrete example of how more relevance can be pursued/gained? 

A. Well, the SID Scenarios Initiative carried out in East Africa over the last 10 years has been able to capture the imagination of many people with the result that many of the scenarios/forecasts depicted about the future political and economic evolution of the East African society have actually come true! Such initiative has allowed SID to become a focal point and a confidence builder for many of our young people in East Africa.  This means that SID does in fact play a positive role in our societies! This initiative together with the work done on issues such as inequalities and on the democratic transition process, are  good experiences that can be replicated in other parts of Africa like Southern and West Africa but in other parts of the world as well such as Latin America. This is actually one of my priorities as President of the Society to realize. 

Q. When you say ‘other players’ do you broadly refer to the international players or do you refer to a specific player?

A. I refer both to global, regional and national players. We are going to experience a great deal of social instability in many parts of the world. Many young people today are losing hope; they don’t seem to see a future ahead of them. We need to urgently address the crisis of jobs creation and come up with ideas on how to stimulate economic growth as well as improve the productive capacities of our economies so that jobs are made available for the young people. Organizations like UNIDO, ILO, UNDP, and UNFPA are important interlocutors to talk and work with to address issues such as the jobs crisis and the youth bulge. At the same time, we need to engage with national economic players to understand how to improve economic empowerment; how to bring about higher inclusive development, good governance, and citizenship participation. All these dynamics are going to be critical for a powerful civil society organization like SID to address and advise on. 

Q. Talking about actors and players, how should SID relate to the corporate sector? In your view, which are the opportunities and challenges of its growing involvement in development? 

A. As you know, the ‘look East’ concept of development is gaining momentum. Developing countries are increasingly looking at the China and India models of development and engagement with the developing world. And business firms in the developed world are increasingly eager to understand how to relate to the new business environments in Africa, Latin America and Asia. It is therefore important to pursue a better understanding of these new competing ideas about development and engagement by Asian economic giants that are gaining prominence. At the SID World Congress in Washington DC last July, there was a lot of interest about the role of China in Africa, almost to the point of thinking that China is probably re-working the whole concept of development cooperation but in a way that is different from the traditional concept of development cooperation that has defined relations between the West and the South. What emerged in Washington is that China is sort of tapping into Africa’s vast resources and paying back in infrastructure projects development (building roads, railways, ports etc). If you compare this approach to the typical development cooperation relationship between Africa and the traditional European partners, you realize the whole difference in concepts of cooperation. In such a context, the interaction at local level between an institution like SID - that works to find new ideas and workable solutions for a particular environment - and new actors like the private sector can be crucial as it can really galvanise a policy framework that can influence governments to bring about solid change on development models that best work. 

Q. With regards to the SID World Congress 2011, that you have just mentioned, the role of the private sector as a driver for good governance, as well as the role of trade as a driver for economic growth, were much emphasised. How can we assure that growth is inclusive development -oriented and that accountability is respected? 

A. There are a number of issues. It has been suggested by economists such as Stiglitz that the global crisis is a result of the state having overly taken a back seat in economic matters; that the balance between state and market has become too pronounced and even blurred. The private actors have taken advantage of weak legal and regulatory environments in such situations and the new economic nationalisms emerging are a consequence of this policy ineptness. The bigger role of the private sector is, of course, critical in a competitive globalization environment. However, it requires a very strong state and strong regulations. Such regulations need to ensure that the rules of the game are well established but do not interfere with the activities of the private sector. The last 30 years demonstrate the failure of the state in economic ownership, control and regulation. The African state, for example, was an economic monopoly state that failed, largely, because of shutting out competition. On the other hand, the private sector needs to be well regulated; otherwise it fuels corruption which has become quite pervasive.  

Let me come to the issue of trade. Having worked as Secretary General of the East African Community, I am convinced that trade is a key driver of investments. No investor will come from outside a particular economic region if they feel that the economic space does not allow for the free movement of goods. No one also wants to trade in a small market. What really drives trade is thus the potential of a large market. And this is why regional integration makes lot of meaning in Africa. Regional Economic Communities like the EAC, SADC and COMESA are now working towards opening up a very large free trade internal market cutting across the geographical space from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope. It is only by having such a large internal market that Africa would be able to attract the right kind of and sizeable investments. This also means - as emerged during the SID World Congress sessions on Latin America - that customs administration must be very effective. In the East African Community, about 40 percent of the cost of doing business in the intra-regional trade market is actually imposed by bureaucratic systems across the borders. So unless customs procedures are smoothened - allowing for the free movement of goods and services across the borders - good trade facilitation arrangements that lower costs of logistics cannot happen. 

Q. Rio Plus20 is approaching. What are your thoughts and expectations?

A.  I hope that the Rio Plus 20 meeting in June will be able to seize the moment. It is clear that the sustainable development agenda has now been stolen by the climate change agenda, which, in a way, is unfortunate because the Rio Conference in 1992 was very much focused on sustainable development and the broad environmental questions posed by the Brundtland Commission. Sustainable development goes beyond issues of environment. Let me say that, coming from Africa, I am very much concerned that there is still a North-South divide with regards to the policy responses to addressing environmental challenges: the responsibilities for carbon emissions, for example, are still not being fully embraced by the major polluters, even though the South itself is increasingly becoming a polluter itself. As President of SID, I think it is important that we continue our work on the environment sustainability agenda. For many years, SID has been one of the major drivers in formulating, shaping and advocating ideas about sustainable environment. SID has also built an important linkage with other actors in promoting a fair and equitable policy on sustainable development and its linkage with sustainable livelihoods especially in poor countries. 

Interview by Angela Zarro


Juma V. Mwapachu is President of SID and former Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC). Prior to his appointment to the EAC, Amb. Mwapachu was Tanzania's ambassador to France and has previously held positions in both the public and private sectors. In 2005, The University of Dar es Salaam conferred on Amb. Mwapachu a Doctor of Literature degree (Honoris Causa) and in December 2011, he was awarded Kenya's third highest presidential honour - The Moran of Gold Heart (MGH) - for his outstanding tenure as Secretary General of the East African Community. 

Amb. Mwapachu has been a  founding member of the SID Tanzania Chapter in 1984, its first Secretary General, and a member of the SID International Governing Council.  Amb. Mwapachu holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of East Africa, Dar-es-Salaam (1969) and a Postgraduate Diploma in International Law, International Institutions and Diplomacy from the Indian Academy of International Law and Diplomacy, New Delhi, India. He is author of several books.


Photo: shanastine/flickr