UNCTAD is in fact an organ of the UN's General Assembly, and seeks to add value by enabling intergovernmental agencies arrive at a consensus regarding the state of the world economy. The last time an UNCTAD conference was held in Africa was in 1996, when it was hosted by the South African government under UNCTAD IX. This year, it is back in Africa-specifically Ghana, where the 12th session of UNCTAD is to take place.
The theme of UNCTAD XII is "Addressing the Opportunities and Challenges for Development" , and comes at what some might consider an appropriate time when the global economy is beset with a number of significant challenges-as exemplified by the rising prices of food stuff, which has been triggered by the interest by the West in bio-fuels; as well as the impact of the US's sub- prime mortgage crisis that saw poor people in America being given loans they were unable to pay back, triggering a crisis of confidence in the credit markets.
The ramifications of these two events have stretched far and wide to even Europe, where not only has the British-based Northern Rock collapsed, triggering its nationalization by the Brown government, but there have been instances of riots in countries as far apart as Haiti, d'Ivoire and Senegal. Against backdrop, it might seem difficult reconcile the fact that there is a commodity boom.
Put into context, these elements an apparent commodity boom, in foodstuffs and general malaise he global economy point to a globalization that continues to create opportunities and challenges. stands to reason that because of civil society organizations (CSOs) particularly keen to make an impact in the outcome of the conference. One way of doing so is at the Society Forum that will take place from 17-19 April in Accra before conference. CSO Forums not new practice
Parallel civil society forums for many years been an important component of UN conferences. Accra conferencee is no exception. civil society, the primary concern bringing collective energies to from all the participants to finalize the civil society statement that be delivered at the opening plenary of the main conference.
Even before the conference, society has already initiated activities that will seek to influence outcome of UNCTAD XII-as exemplified by the many workshops, seminars and forums that will take place in those three days. The tradition has been for CSOs-which incidentally include the media-to unite around common positions that are enshrined in a Declaration that is formally presented to the UNCTAD conference. Here in Accra, the collective statement will be finalized during the 17-19 period. For this reason, the drafting process was started ahead of time so as to ensure the broadest possibilities to input into it.
As for the main conference, the main theme has been framed in a way as to invite Ministers to identify the changes that need to be made to tackle the challenges around globalization, as well as capitalize on the attendant opportunities.
According to one Ambassador Stepenson's outlines on the UNCTAD website, the first sub-theme invites a discussion on how to continue to enhance policy coherence at all levels, including global, regional, bilateral and national.
The second involves examining the new policy environment and how new realities-such as terrorism and climate change-are affecting strategies for the promotion of development; the third is more proactive in the way it which it invites action on enhancing the enabling environment at all levels. Finally, sub-theme four focuses on how to strengthen UNCTAD by enhancing its development role, impact and institutional effectiveness.
In fact, for Ghanaians, the role of UNCTAD might hold resonance not just because there is a general impression that many Ghanaians are unaware of this forty-four -year old UN agency, and therefore a better appreciation
of it can be obtained here at the CSO Forum, but also because there has been a lot of talk about the WTO and its influence of developing countries, including Ghana, but rarely has there been an understanding of how a countervailing influence it can represent to the neoliberalism enshrined in the WTO, where trade matters above all else.
UNCI'AD's edge over the WTO is in the manner in which it consistently undertakes research, policy analysis and data collection for the debates of government representatives and experts. Furthermore, it offers technical assistance that is specific to the needs of developing countries. In the last Trade and
Development Report on regional integration for example, UNCTAD talked about the need for developing countries to be given policy space to develop their own regional integration, simultaneously castigating the offensive launched by the West against poor countries and the tremendous pressure they are often under to sign FfAs.
Regrettably, the report went little-noticed among many Ghanaians. UNCI'AD XII is an opportunity to make a loud noise and re-dress constructive and proactive debates on the imbalance that has been created by forces greater than that of poor countries.