Arab NGO Network claims for democratisation for LDCs

Ziad Abdel Samad,
Executive Director of the ANND.
(Photo: NCCAR)

The “least developed countries” (LCDs) of the Arab region “witness the same people’s mobilizations calling for democratic reforms” than the rest, warned the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), in a statement launched to raise its concerns to the United Nations Fourth LDCs Conference (UN LDC-IV) that takes place in Istanbul this week.

“The problems of peace and security are directly linked to living conditions, and stem from unsatisfied basic needs and violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms for a large portion of the population” of the LDCs, said the ANND in its declaration. 

The risks on this matter also respond to “considerable disparities between regions and economic sectors and social groups, in adition [to] wasted or unfairly exploited internal and external resources”, added the network. 

“This key linkage between living conditions, civic, social and economic rights and democratic institutions has been at the heart of the popular upheaval that has swept through the Arab region,” it said.

The LCDs that belong to the Arab League are Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. 

This is the complete text of ANND’s statement: 

Civil society organizations from the Arab region raise their concerns to the UN LDC-IV Conference 

Statement by the Arab NGO Network for Development  


Since the establishment of the Least Developed Country (LDC) category in 1971, and the international recognition of these countries as the “poorest and weakest segment” of the international community, only two countries  graduated from this status. Currently 48 countries remain stuck in the category, far from meeting the internationally agreed goals. This is despite three successive Programmes of Action targeting action-oriented commitments in several crucial areas for LDCs.

In the Arab region, LDCs suffer not only from rise in poverty, income inequality, high unemployment and lack of appropriate policy responses, but also violent conflicts and internal strife, which led to the separation of Southern Sudan for example, and is often present in the case of Yemen. The economic hardships and struggle over resources have been exacerbated by the compounded food, fuel and economic global crises, which in turn threatens to widen internal tensions.  

Indeed, the problems of peace and security are directly linked to living conditions, and stem from unsatisfied basic needs and violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms for a large portion of the population. It is also linked to considerable disparities between regions and economic sectors and social groups, in addition wasted or unfairly exploited internal and external resources. These social and economic problems, both structural and contextual, have their roots in the absence of comprehensive, coherent national development strategies reflecting real developmental challenges, which is linked itself to unrepresentative political systems and weak administrative institutions. At the center of the development challenge in the Arab region is the inability to achieve effective levels of economic participation by women. The economic marginalization from which the majority of citizens suffer in the Arab region is amplified among women, who face barriers at several levels, including the economy, politics, society, and family. 

This key linkage between living conditions, civic, social and economic rights and democratic institutions has been at the heart of the popular upheaval that has swept through the Arab region. LDCs in the region witness the same people’s mobilizations calling for democratic reforms, full respect, enjoyment and realization of economic and social rights and new social contract that re-establishes the relations of citizen to state. In such quested systemic revisions of development policies and efforts towards poverty eradication, employment creation, and educational reform, empowerment of women ought to take center space, integrated into the overall revision of development policies. 


At this moment in particular, a fundamental debate is needed on the development models to be adopted, the social contracts framing them, and the institutional and political reforms leading to its implementation. However, this revision should not be limited to national systems, but should include as well revision of the international frameworks affecting development, aid, debt and trade. This has been long called for by various civil society groups within the framework of seeking progress son Goal 8 of the MDGs. Thus, achieving sustained, inclusive development paths in LDCs, and developing countries as a whole, requires a much more coherent and supportive international development architecture that necessitates systemic global economic reforms.

In this respect, we perceive that the renewed partnership for development to be undertaken at the UN LDC-IV Conference should call upon development partners, donors, international institutions, and LDCs to take into consideration the following:

MDG 8; Aid, FDIs, Trade, and Debt

• Recognize and enhance global commitments to complement national and local efforts of developing countries under MDG 8.  The draft Istanbul Programme of Action have called for committing development partners and all international institutions, including international financial institutions (IFIs) to increase ODA budgets, in addition to delivering on the existing commitments. However, the bitter lessons learnt necessitate highlighting the urgency of political will and implementation mechanisms in order to translate global commitments into concrete and explicit implemented steps. It is important to note that Yemen has received limited aid for the past 17 years, and it was below international averages for LDCs. As per the second Millennium Development Goals Report for Yemen (2010), out of the US $ 5.779 billion pledged for the period 2007-2010 only US $ 3.677 billion has been committed with signed agreements, on which US $ 906.3 million has been disbursed. 

• Promote foreign direct investment to LDCs that respects and answers to national priorities and development challenges, rather than being fast profit making investments. In fact, profit remittances (outflows of foreign investors’ profits) exceeded FDI inflows since 2005, meaning net transfer of FDI in LDCs as a whole have been negative since then. 

• Put an immediate halt to the pressures faced by LDCs through discriminatory trading and implement the external trade policy within the framework of a comprehensive development strategy, whose nature is not merely economic, but also concerned with social, environmental, health, educational, and cultural factors. Both Sudan and Yemen are negotiating accession to the WTO. Both Sudan and Yemen are facing WTO-plus demands in their accession process, which defies what WTO law established as their right to special and differential treatment. However the possible negative effects of WTO membership, for instance in Sudan, on some of the agricultural products, especially cotton, sesame, and beans as well as on oil seed products and meat crops,  which account for about 20% of the Sudanese agricultural production and 40% of agricultural exports  must not be overlooked. This is especially when Sudan is demanding to reduce support to the agriculture sector in the process, despite being its right as a less-developed country to maintain its support ratios (according to clause 15 in the agriculture convention). Subsequently, such effects could result in deteriorating economic and social rights of communities that rely on such crops, especially that the sector currently employs 70% of the labour force. 

• Cancel the bilateral and multilateral external debts of the poorest countries through enhanced programme of debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC). While the ODA flows to LDCs dropped considerably, the debt burdens of LDCs and increasing conditionality with respect to aid bring further vulnerability. It is clear that the cancellation of debt burden of LDCs would facilitate reducing poverty and achieving growth. In Sudan, external debt stood at about US$36.8 billion in 2010. 

Natural resources and productive capacities:

• Renegotiate contracts on mineral and energy resources in LDCs to ensure fair, transparent allocation of exploitation rights and disbursement of revenue to national authorities and peoples. The contracts should ensure that the exploitation itself is conducted in a sustainable, environmentally safe way that develops the areas of exploitation and that the profits are equitably redistributed at the national level. 

• Regulate acquisitions of agricultural lands by foreign countries and firms to ensure they are fairly, sustainably and inclusively used to ensure food security and sovereignty of LDCs. In Sudan, between 2004 and 2009, large agricultural areas were allotted for foreign investment projects, amounting to about 439.6 million US$. These agreements collide with challenges related to safeguarding the rights of the local groups to land use, food security, finding balance among possible agriculture investment’s revenues, and control over local resources. While women’s employment in the Arab countries, including Arab LDCs, is concentrated in the agricultural sector, such problematic increases stress on women’s employment opportunities and sources of income, thus increasing the incidence of poverty among them. 

• Develop productive capacities of LDCs on a sustainable basis. Qualitative, quantitative, and sustainable increase of productive capacity in agriculture, industry and service sectors, infrastructure and energy, science and technology and information and communication technology are core to decreasing LDCs’ vulnerability and addressing the problematic of unemployment.

Democratic governance

• Ensure democracy, rule of law, transparency and participation of civil society for the effective and efficient achievement of development targets in LDCs. The recent turmoil in some of LDCs, particularly in Yemen and Sudan, recall the long quest of peoples towards democracy, rule of law, respect to their fundamental human rights and freedoms. It reflects their request for a new social contract in which human dignity is respected, and corruption, lack of transparency and accountability are overcome. In such reform processes, women’s rights ought to be at the center, including constitutional and legislative reforms, as well as other political, economic, social, and cultural reforms.

In light of these critical concerns, we urge that the Istanbul Programme of Action and the outcomes of UN LDC-IV Conference reflect the real development priorities of LDCs and respond to them through agreed policy reforms and commitments, clear programs and timeframes, which are developed, agreed upon, and implemented both by development partners, LDCs, and relevant stakeholders including civil society organizations and other social partners.