Gurirab calls for Globalization with Head, Heart and Human Face, and for cancellation of Third World Debt

Following are excerpts from the address by Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, President of the United Nations General Assembly, to the "World Summit for Social Development and Beyond: Achieving Social Development for all in a Globalizing World", which was held in Geneva from 26 to 30 June 2000:

We have come to this historic and beautiful city to confront one of the most urgent challenges of our time. It is the challenge of putting the needs of the people at the centre of the global agenda of peace and development and democracy. We are here to agree on real solutions to the acute problems of real people.

Today, the main challenge facing humankind is represented by the awesome force of globalization. It is said that millions in the world welcome globalization, while millions fear it. What the world actually needs is globalization with a head, a heart and a human face.

The signatories at Copenhagen in 1995 framed a broad strategy covering national, regional and international action to end marginalization and injustice. They promised to establish time-bound targets to cut poverty, to promote greater equality between women and men, to achieve full employment and to establish universal access to education and primary health care. World leaders vowed to accelerate advancement of the least developed countries, and to increase resources for official development assistance.

Our task this week and beyond Geneva is to build upon the strong foundation of consensus that was reached in Copenhagen and to uphold the social commitment expressed there five years ago. To do that, we must marshal resources for social commitment commensurate with the needs of real people. By this, I mean not only development grants but also other critical areas of policy initiative: debt cancellation, productive investment, measures to discourage financial speculation, and firm action to end the tariff and non-tariff barriers that are still imposed lopsidedly against developing countries that can least afford them.

In that context, the burden of third world debt is in fact even more crushing than the absence of aid. For example, a number of African countries are forced to pay more for debt service than for education and health combined. On top of that, much of their debt was incurred by undemocratic regimes that were encouraged and supported by certain industrialized countries. To add insult to injury, more aid and cooperation were extended in the past to those dictatorships than to the democratizing and reforming governments in African today. Despite the 1996 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, only four or five of 33 applicants have qualified. Some leaders in industrialized countries often lament the burden that deficit spending will impose on their children. Why, then, has there been benign neglect in the face of the crushing mortgage being imposed on future generations in impoverished countries?

The package of resources needed to underwrite social development has got to be balanced. It would need to include both national resources raised through tax regime or earned through fair terms of trade, and international resources generated through official development assistance, debt relief and long-term productive investment.

Granted, developing countries themselves must deepen their commitment to political, economic and legal reforms and accountable government. Otherwise, the incidents of marginalization will be enforced even more harshly and the victims will be the poor and the most vulnerable sections in the society. There is really no pride in us being arrogant and despondent when, in the case of Africa, today war, death and economic woes deny livelihood to millions and denude them of human dignity. On the other hand, those fortunate countries that had benefited from early industrialisation and are, therefore, today in an ideal position to profit immensely from globalization, should acknowledge and assume the responsibilities towards the least fortunate that accompany their power and great fortune.

Promoting sustainable social development will help eliminate barriers to equality, to eradicate poverty and to overcome the disparities, inequalities and injustices that exist in the world today. If these goals are achieved, we will, at long last, be able to say that a sea change is under way. I truly hope so. Now let us dive in.