'Democracy delivered by economic inclusion': The Kenyan head of UNCTAD, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, spoke to New African's J. P. O'Malley about the role of his agency given the current wave of global populism and the threat to multilateral trade agreements.

Author:O'Malley, J.P.

In December 2016, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published The Least Developed Countries Report 2016. It forecasts a significant reduction--from 48 in 2016 to 32 in 2025--in the total number of LDCs in the world: that is countries across the globe that have been classified by the UN as "least developed".

The definition of LDC's takes into account things like low Gross National Income (GNI), weak human assets, as well as a high degree of economic vulnerability.

The report predicts an overall reduction in global poverty. But for Africans, the news is not so good, primarily because by the mid-2020s, UNCTAD projects that the LDC group will include just two countries outside of Africa: Cambodia and Haiti. Currently, 34 of the 54 recognised nation states across Africa are defined as LDC's.

Some statistics from UNCTAD's latest report make for depressing reading. Thirty-three LDCs, for instance, have remained in the same per capita income category since 1987; while in the low-income category of LDC countries, the average income per person amounts to a paltry $750 a year.

What, then, are the reasons for such stagnation, and in some cases, a manifestation of poverty: particularly in sub-Saharan countries? While globalisation --which encourages expansion of trade with fewer protection tariffs and barriers--has certainly helped lift millions out of poverty in recent decades, not nearly enough people have benefited. And huge challenges remain.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) primarily works with governments across the world, as well as liaising closely with the private sector: to provide analysis, consensus-building, and technical assistance to boost global trade and investment.

Together with other UN departments and agencies, UNCTAD measures progress by the Sustainable Development Goals, as set out in Agenda 2030: a UN-led blueprint for sustainable development across the globe.

Since September 2013 the Secretary-General of UNCTAD has been Dr Mukhisa Kituyi. The 60-year-old Kenyan has a wide range of experience in trade negotiations, and in international economics and diplomacy.

He studied political science and international relations in Uganda, Kenya, and Norway respectively holding academic posts in the latter two countries. And he has been a non-resident fellow of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC.

Kituyi was elected to the Kenyan Parliament in 1992, and was twice re-elected: serving as Kenya's Minister of Trade and Industry from 2002 to 2007. Other positions he has served in include chairman of the Council of Ministers of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, and he was lead negotiator for Eastern and Southern African ministers during the European Union-ACP Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations.

Kituyi begins our conversation by stressing the importance of how countries across the globe can help alleviate poverty in various LDC s.

"What we are calling for at UNCTAD is for countries to return to their commitments of 0.15 to 0.2% of Gross National Income (GNI) devoted to Official...

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