Least Developed Countries Handed ‘Rawest of Deals’, Secretary-General Says, Stressing Era of Unkept Promises Must End, as ‘From Potential to Prosperity’ Conference Opens
World Leaders Gathered in Doha Urge Major Reform of Global Financial Order, Renewed Commitment to Sustainable Development Goals
Acknowledging that the 46 countries in the least developed category have been handed “the rawest of deals”, world leaders called for a radical transformation of the deeply dysfunctional global financial order and a renewed commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals as the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries opened today in Doha.
“The era of unkept promises must come to an end — now,” António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, underscored, as he outlined a series of urgently needed measures to help accelerate sustainable development and tap the full potential of the least developed countries. The Conference, held every 10 years since 1981, is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to assess their progress. It was postponed to 2023 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant during January 2022.
Mr. Guterres said developed countries must live up to their commitment to provide least developed countries with .15 to .20 per cent of their gross national income for official development assistance (ODA) — a pledge reaffirmed in the New Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2022-2031, adopted in March 2022. Further, it is essential to expand international efforts to fight tax evasion, money-laundering and illicit financial flows. “The Doha Programme of Action is a practical guide to address all these issues,” he observed. Twenty-five developing economies spend over 20 per cent of their Government revenues solely on servicing debt, he said, calling for a reform of the global financial systems through “a new Bretton Woods moment”.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, Amir of Qatar and President of the Conference, called on the international community to adopt comprehensive measures to enable the graduation of least developed countries in a sustainable manner. Developed countries have a moral obligation to assist them, he said, adding that “this is a responsibility and not a favour”. And while least developed countries are not responsible for the past, they have a duty to adopt rational policies and national action plans for the present, he said, highlighting the unequal relationship between the Global North and Global South.
Underscoring that there is no way to build a new world except through global human solidarity, he said the Conference is a renewed statement of such solidarity. The international community should use the New Doha Programme of Action as a road map, he said, announcing a financial contribution of $60 million, of which $10 million will be earmarked for supporting its implementation. Commending the efforts of the Group of 20 (G20), such as the debt service suspension initiative for the poorest countries, he called for more comprehensive solutions based on justice and pragmatism.
One in three people in least developed countries are living in extreme poverty, Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, reminded the audience, calling for radical action to transform their economies. Pointing to the compounded effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the debt tsunami, climate change, disasters and active conflict situations, he said that so many lost opportunities later and stressed that the international community must hold itself accountable to its previous pledges.
Lazarus McCarthy, President of Malawi and Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, noted that these countries are setting the pace in pursuit of a world in which nations treat each other as equals. Recalling how warmongering empires gave way to earth-polluting super-Powers, he called for a new future in which multilateral cooperation rules the day. “The enemy we need to be most vigilant against is our own complacency”, he said, adding that least developed countries cannot afford to have the momentum of the Doha Programme of Action suffer the same disruptions its predecessor, the Istanbul Programme of Action, did.
Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, called on delegates to leverage the synergies between the Doha Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Highlighting the Sustainable Graduation Support Facility included in the former document, she said such graduation must be irreversible and resilient, and requires country-specific support. Also highlighting the Secretary-General’s proposal for a global Sustainable Development Goal Stimulus, she drew attention to the potential of millions of young people and the growing working-age population in least developed countries.
A youth representative from Lesotho, the environmental activist Reekelitsoe Molapo, looked forward to a future where “least developed” is a concept found only in history books. She called on the Heads of State in the room to recognize youth’s potential. The 226 million youth in the 46 least developed countries need access to decent employment, quality education and entrepreneurship, and resilient, gender-equal societies, she said. “Young people from the least developed countries are dynamic, bold, innovative and resilient,” she stated. “We have to be.”
“Our nations do not ask for charity,” Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said, stressing that least developed countries are seeking their just dues under international commitments. Recalling how her country was recognized as a least developed country as it struggled to rebuild its war-ravaged economy, she said it looks forward to graduating from that status in 2026. Graduating least developed countries such as hers should enjoy international support measures for an extended period of time, she added.
Least developed countries were among the first to offer solidarity after the 6 February earthquakes that hit Türkiye, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of that country, pointed out, adding that they are, in fact, “the most developed and generous in heart”. They must not be held back by decisions made far beyond their borders, he stressed.
During the general debate that began in the afternoon, several delegates took up the call for international solidarity and pointed to the development possibilities offered by the human and natural resources of their countries. Ismaël Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti, noted that the category contains 46 members of which 33 are African countries. He stressed that least developed countries are not just countries that receive aid; rather they should be considered a high-yield investment. Highlighting the country’s strategic location, he called on multilateral partners to support initiatives such as the oil storage terminal project.
Chad’s President, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, also pointed to the untapped potential of his country, noting that vital sectors, such as agriculture and technology, remain to be explored. His Government will facilitate investments and make efforts to stabilize the business environment, he said, while stressing that the Conference should not just be another session of promises that are not kept. The people of least developed countries do not need more conferences, they need concrete action that impacts their daily lives, he said.
Faustin Archange Touadera, President of the Central African Republic, described his country as a victim of geostrategic ambitions related to its natural resources. Though endowed with gold and diamonds, cobalt, oil and uranium, it remains one of the poorest nations in the world, he said, noting that it has been subjected to systematic looting and manufactured political instability. How can least developed countries move from potential to prosperity if they continue to face foreign interference, he asked, calling for the lifting of the unjust and illegitimate embargo on arms and diamonds from his country.
Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, President of Maldives, which has graduated from a least developed to a middle-income country, said this success is bittersweet because the country has been unable to fully realize the promise of prosperity. For small island developing States such as his, extreme vulnerabilities can have the disastrous consequence of wiping out decades of progress and development, he warned, pointing to the impact of the Asian tsunami of 2004 and the way the pandemic turned Maldives into a no-income country for three months. Describing climate change as “the ultimate threat multiplier”, he called on the developed world to deliver on the collective finance goals and fast track the establishment of the loss and damage fund.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Conference elected Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, Amir of Qatar, as President of the fifth Conference. The representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Latvia, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Nepal, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal and Slovenia were elected as Vice-Presidents, and Tumasie Blair, Deputy Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda, was elected as Rapporteur-General, all by acclamation. The election of the remaining Vice-President from the Western European and other States will take place as soon as the candidature has been communicated.
The Conference also approved the organization of its work (document A/CONF.219/2023/1). Further, it held a commemorative event for the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the Group of Least Developed Countries that included an address by Rabab Fatima, Under Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, various statements, a film presentation and musical and dance interludes.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Seychelles, Slovenia, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Libya, Zambia, Mauritania, Poland, Burundi, Eswatini, Somalia, Kiribati, Benin, Angola, United Republic of Tanzania and Mozambique.
The plenary of the Conference will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Monday, 6 March, to continue its work.
SHEIKH TAMIM BIN HAMAD AL THANI, Amir of Qatar and President of the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, said addressing the interlinked crises affecting the world is crucial to support the billions of people in least developed countries. Their situation is impacted not only by structural issues related to the imbalance between developed countries and least developed countries but also by developmental and economic policies, he said. Expressing solidarity with the people of Türkiye and Syria who have been affected by the devastating earthquake, he said he is puzzled by the delay in delivering aid to the Syrian people. It is wrong to abuse a humanitarian tragedy for political purposes, he stressed, adding that there is no way to build a new world except through global human solidarity. The Fifth Conference is a renewed statement of such solidarity, he said, adding that the international community should build on the Istanbul Programme of Action and use the Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2022-2031 as a road map for effective and sustainable solutions.
Highlighting several possible initiatives for ensuring sustainable development in least developed countries, he pointed to the need to establish a food storage facility, as well as develop an online university. The international community must adopt comprehensive measures to enable the graduation of these countries in a sustainable manner, he said, adding that developed countries have a moral obligation to assist them. “This is a responsibility and not a favour,” he underscored, adding that the least developed countries must, in turn, implement national action plans through policies and legislations. They are not responsible for the past, but they have a duty to adopt rational policies for the present, he pointed out, highlighting the unequal relationship between the global North and global South. Stressing that the food security crisis cannot be solved only through temporary humanitarian measures, he noted the relationship between peace and development.
Turning to the debt crisis, he said it has crippled growth and development in least developed countries. Commending the efforts of the Group of 20 (G20), such as the debt service suspension initiative for the poorest countries, he called for more comprehensive solutions based on justice and pragmatism. Debt repayment exacerbates poverty and prevents implementation of development projects. Pointing to the climate crisis and the loss and damage fund, he said, the advanced industrial countries must fulfil their legal and moral responsibilities in this regard. Highlighting Qatar’s multilateral actions in human rights and development, he said his Government values partnership and solidarity in helping countries in crisis. Announcing a financial contribution of $60 million, of which $10 million will be earmarked for supporting the implementation of the Doha Programme of Action, he urged development partners to follow his country’s example.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, noting that the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries was originally scheduled for January 2022, recalled that its sudden cancellation due to the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was another reminder that the world is subject to constant, unexpected change. Since then, the war in Ukraine has not only had a devastating impact on Ukrainians, but also on least developed countries struggling with skyrocketing food and energy costs. Such countries are being stranded amidst a rising tide of crisis, uncertainty, climate chaos and deep global injustice — unable to keep pace with lightning-fast technological change, faced with rising unemployment and handed “the rawest of deals” by a deeply dysfunctional and unfair global financial system. Least developed countries face interest rates that are up to eight times higher than developed ones, and 25 developing economies are spending over 20 per cent of Government revenues solely on servicing debt.
Underscoring that least developed countries require a “revolution of support” across three key areas, he first stressed that they need immediate assistance to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals. It is “high time”, he said, that developed countries live up to their commitment to provide least developed countries with .15 to .20 per cent of their gross national income for official development assistance (ODA). He also underlined the need to expand international efforts to fight tax evasion, money-laundering and the illicit financial flows that drain domestic resources. Lower-income countries lose a much higher proportion of their tax revenues to tax abuse, while having the least influence on global taxation rules. Least developed countries also need funding and support to invest in technological capabilities and better infrastructure; to give women a seat at the decision-making tables of Government, business and civic life; to invest in education; and to strengthen institutions. “The Doha Programme of Action is a practical guide to address all these issues,” he observed, calling on development partners to support the implementation of the deliverables therein.
Second, he urged reform of the global financial systems through “a new Bretton Woods moment”. International financial institutions must develop creative ways to extend financing where the needs are greatest, and it is also time to accelerate the reallocation of special drawing rights from the richest countries to those who need help the most. Further, the international community must find new, common-sense ways to measure national economies, such as developing lending criteria that go beyond gross domestic product (GDP), to provide a true view of the value of natural capital — for example, the preservation of forests, watersheds and marine resources. He went on to say that least developed countries need a “climate-action support revolution”, calling for increased assistance to such States to increase their resilience to climate change and transition to renewable energy. He added a call for a climate solidarity pact to mobilize financial and technical support towards these ends, and to keep the 1.5° Celsius goal alive. “The era of unkept promises must come to an end — now,” he stressed.
CSABA KŐRÖSI (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, stressed that radical action to transform the economies of least developed countries has never been so urgent. These countries have arrived at a crossroads on the path towards achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its targets. He expressed deep concern that despite vast efforts, one in three people in least developed countries are living in extreme poverty. The lingering long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a tsunami of debt, exposure to disasters and deepening inequalities are adding fuel to the fire. In many least developed countries, women, girls and minorities still face large barriers in education, employment and health care, he cautioned, noting that even before the pandemic, more than half of these countries were in active conflict situations. These conflicts will only be exacerbated by the disastrous impacts of climate change, he said, warning that by the end of this decade, the demand for water is expected to exceed supply by 40 per cent.
Calling for international support measures to advance the progress of least developed countries — including renewed partnerships with development partners — he stressed the importance of eradicating poverty, achieving development goals and enabling more States to graduate from the least developed country category. He recalled that 42 years ago, the New Programme of Action was adopted by the international community in Paris — with the ambitious goal of radically changing the socioeconomic situation of these countries. “Four decades and so many lost opportunities later, we must hold ourselves finally accountable to the pledges we made,” he emphasized. If the international community bolsters true partnerships and harnesses technology and innovation, its goals can still be within reach by 2030, he said, declaring: “all our decisions should be impactful and all our actions transformative”.
LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, called on delegates to leverage the synergies between the Doha Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda, applying accelerators in each of the six priority areas of the Programme. That is the only way to overcome the impacts of the ongoing crises and regain momentum, given the urgency to address interconnected crises, with emergency action complemented by longer-term efforts to ensure sustainable recovery. Affirming that millions of young people and the growing working-age population in least developed countries can drive transformative sustainable development, she commended those that have graduated or are in the process of graduating from the least developed country category — a milestone for development. “But such graduation must be irreversible, resilient and sustainable,” she stressed, requiring country-specific support from the international community. The Sustainable Graduation Support Facility included in the Programme of Action aims to support a march towards such sustainable graduation.
All least developed countries are highly vulnerable to rising prices and supply constraints for food and fuel, she noted, with tightening financial conditions having curtailed their ability to invest in sustainable development and to address the impacts of climate change. To turn the tide, the Secretary-General has proposed a global Sustainable Development Goal Stimulus, and she emphasized that “it is important to rally to deliver it”. The international community must act on commitments to ensure adequate funding for least developed countries, with debt relief programmes accessible to all. Concessional public development financing should have long been scaled up, she stated, as catalysing higher investment flows in both physical and social infrastructure can drive green growth and human development — enhancing resilience to shocks and disasters. Further, conducive trade and investment policies are a critical foundation for breaking out of poverty. Pointing to the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September as crucial to turning the tide, with the full implementation of the Doha Programme of Action being key to success, she stressed: “We need to act now.”
LAZARUS MCCARTHY, President of Malawi and Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, expressed gratitude to the Government and people of Qatar, as well as the Secretary-General and the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States for steering and coordinating the Conference. “With friends like these, we need not fear any enemies,” he said, adding that “in fact, the enemy we need to be most vigilant against is our own complacency”. Just as the ancient era of world-conquering, warmongering empires gave way to a modern era of world-policing, wealth-controlling and earth-polluting super-Powers, the current era must give way to a postmodern one in which international and multilateral cooperation between nations that treat each other as equals rules the day, he said. Least developed countries are setting the pace and must sustain the momentum in pursuit of that world, he stressed.
Calling on the international community to protect the momentum that is building in Doha, he said: “We simply cannot afford to lose it.” Least developed countries cannot afford to have the momentum of the Doha Programme of Action suffer the same disruptions the Istanbul Programme of Action suffered, he pointed out, calling on them to shift focus from “what other nations have that we do not”. The greatest progress is always made by those who focus on what they themselves have and how to use it to build something better. Highlighting the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals as a reminder of the better days that lie ahead, he said the international community must press forward to finish what it started. Development partners will respond with the necessary technical and financial support the same way Qatar has done, he assured.
SHEIKH HASINA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, recalling that her country became a Member State in 1974 under the leadership of her father, said that, at the time, it was recognized as a least developed country as it struggled to rebuild its war-ravaged economy. Her father was assassinated the following year, and to carry on his legacy, “we vowed that Bangladesh will continue to champion the LDC [least developed countries] causes”, she said. Noting that her country looks forward to graduating from least developed country status in 2026, she said that Bangladesh is the only such State among the world’s 50 largest economies in terms of gross domestic product. Further, its march towards graduation is also marked by efforts at just, inclusive and sustainable development. On that point, she said that, among other measures, Bangladesh has cut the national poverty rate from 31.5 per cent to 20 per cent within a decade, national social protection measures constitute 16.75 per cent of the total budget and its literacy rate stands at 75.2 per cent.
She went on to say that Bangladesh is now a reliable partner in the international supply chain, also serving as a potential regional hub for connectivity and logistics. “Our next vision is to build a ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041,” she reported. Much of this success is owed to international support measures negotiated for least developed countries, she noted, including the duty- and quota-free access Bangladesh secured from most developed and emerging economies that helped its private sector build a solid manufacturing base. Stressing that least developed countries need sustained support to double their share of global trade, she noted that her country is also dealing with 1.2 million forcibly displaced Rohingya from Myanmar with no immediate solution. Against that backdrop, she said that there should be incentives for graduating least developed countries’ performance, and that they should enjoy the international support measures for least developed countries for an extended period of time. She added: “Our nations do not ask for charity; what we seek are our dues under international commitments.”
MEVLÜT ÇAVUŞOĞLU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Türkiye, delivering his statement on behalf of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called assisting least developed countries “a top priority”. This conference is a milestone to developing a new global partnership that will ensure that the economic and financial system does not create further inequalities, he stressed, urging for a commitment that will secure that least developed countries will not be held back by decisions made far beyond their borders. On 6 February, two earthquakes hit Türkiye, he recalled, welcoming international solidarity that followed and noting that least developed countries were among the first to offer solidarity in the darkest days. Türkiye will never forget the significant sacrifice of the least developed countries, calling them “the most developed and generous in heart”. Underscoring that it is a collective responsibility to support the development and progress of vulnerable States, he reiterated that, together with Belgium, Türkiye is the Chair of the Group of Friends of Least Developed Countries at the United Nations. Moreover, as one of the top-ranking States in development and humanitarian assistance, Türkiye contributes to development efforts in least developed countries in many fields, including capacity-building. “We cannot leave least developed countries behind,” he declared, pointing to food security and specifically to the Istanbul grain initiative which helped every household around the world — especially least developed countries — by bringing down global food prices. To break the vicious cycle that undermines development, the global economic and financial system must be reformed, he emphasized, warning against the impact of climate change on least developed countries.
REEKELITSOE MOLAPO, youth representative from Lesotho, noted she stood for the 226 million youth from all 46 least developed countries. A social entrepreneur and environmental activist, she has spent her 28 years living in such a country and intended to speak truth to power — while still finding ways to work with decision makers to make meaningful change. When the Doha Programme of Action comes to an end, she will be 36 — a youth no more. “When I look around me then, I want to see real change,” she affirmed. Noting that the challenges facing least developed countries are well known — especially in this audience — she accentuated the courage and audacity of youth, citing their aspirations, including: access to decent employment, quality education and entrepreneurship; living in resilient, gender-equal societies, empowered to realize their full potential; and societies that can look forward to graduating from the sorry category of being the furthest behind in reaching development goals. “Young people from the least developed countries are dynamic, bold, innovative and resilient,” she stated. “We have to be.”
“We do not only talk about the problems we face, but we act on them, too,” she stated, citing initiatives by young people from Burundi, Yemen, Solomon Islands and Lesotho to create employment for vulnerable youth, test solutions for the different Sustainable Development Goals to advocate for climate issues, and work for clean energy projects to expand access in Africa. She demanded that the decision makers and Heads of State in the room accelerate action to create enabling environments, recognize youth potential and take heed of the Youth Declaration. “We request that you lead us to sustainable graduation by formally and systematically including youth in the implementation of the Programme of Action — because its success depends on this.” Calling on fellow youth to be activists and protestors when needed, but also ready to infiltrate spaces where they can influence policies, agendas and structures, she stressed: “The least developed countries category is almost twice as old as me. We look forward to a future where ‘least developed’ is a concept found in the history books.”
ISMAËL OMAR GUELLEH, President of Djibouti, noting that there were 25 countries in the category of least developed countries in 1971, added that it grew to 50 in 2007. The category now contains 46 members of which 33 are African countries, he said, noting that the promotion of socioeconomic development was the common denominator of their action plans. Highlighting the United Nations role in supporting these countries, he pointed out that the international community has fallen short of the aims set out in previous conferences, especially when it comes to priority areas such as food security and mobilization of financial resources. Calling on the international community to consider the reasons for this critically, he said that external crises have negatively affected the efforts of these countries. While some have seen the first signs of a structural transformation, others are still confronting the challenges posed by interlinked crises, he said, calling on bilateral and multilateral partners to formulate support strategies accordingly.
Noting that the Doha Programme of Action adopted last year aligns with the final decade of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he drew attention to the Conference slogan “From potential to prosperity”. Least developed countries are not just countries that receive aid; rather they should be considered a high-yield investment, he stressed. It is imperative to deal with the weaknesses of a multilateral trade system that does not encourage international solidarity, he said, calling on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to fully implement all decisions taken at the ministerial conferences, including markets free of tariffs for these countries. Developed economies and multilateral banks must address the debt crisis, and ODA commitments should be respected. Reaffirming his country’s commitment to the promotion of socioeconomic development, he highlighted various initiatives, including the naval programme for repair of vessels, as well as an oil storage terminal project, and called on multilateral partners to support these projects in light of the country’s strategic location.
WAVEL RAMKALAWAN, President of Seychelles, recalled that only three States have graduated from the least developed country status since the 2011 adoption of the Istanbul Programme of Action. Twenty per cent of least developed countries are small island developing States and two thirds are African, he observed, noting that Seychelles has graduated to the high-income status. He stressed that inequality has resulted in a development imbalance, worsened by unprecedented levels of greenhouse-gas emissions, leaving the climate and ecosystems in peril. Developing countries stand to be disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change and must now face the challenges of global warming for which they share minimal responsibility. The goal of graduating from the least developed countries category has never been more difficult in the face of such existential crises, he cautioned, calling for extended support for such countries to sustain their progress. Countries such as his continue to remain vulnerable despite their graduation to high-income status as climate change threatens their existence regardless of economic status. The key difference is that many developed countries have the means to build their resilience in the face of disasters and external shocks. Against this backdrop, he advocated for the global adoption of a multidimensional vulnerability index which offers a targeted approach that will not only complement but improve the efficacy of development cooperation, permitting vulnerable countries to access concessional financing. He also emphasized the importance of South-South cooperation, noting that collective advocacy of shared interests will contribute to mobilizing resources.
NATAŠA PIRC MUSAR, President of Slovenia, said that a combination of insecurities — including climate change, rising energy prices, a global food crisis and conflict — have reversed progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in the areas of poverty reduction, inclusive education, food security and health. Underlining the need to accept historical facts, she urged the international community to take the principle of common but differentiated responsibility seriously. Slovenia, as a developed State, bears a responsibility like other developed countries, and “climate justice is a prerogative that we all must internalize”, she stressed. Also highlighting the importance of science, technology and innovation, she urged that financing for development be accompanied by support for technological innovation.
Noting that science provides not only an opportunity but a challenge, she observed that artificial intelligence is used in production processes, logistics and everyday tasks. However, in the wrong hands, it may have damaging effects, and therefore, the international community must be aware of and prepared for this in the future. As outlined in the Doha Programme of Action, the academic and private sectors can contribute towards this end. She went on to support a human-rights-based approach to development, underlining the principles of non-discrimination and inclusivity as essential to delivering on the pledge to “leave no one behind”. The full realization of the human rights of women and girls is crucial for achieving sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth and sustainable development for all. Adding that the Doha Programme of Action sets out ambitious targets and commitments, she underscored that achieving them is a shared responsibility, based on multilateralism with the United Nations at the core of such combined endeavours.
FAUSTIN ARCHANGE TOUADERA, President of the Central African Republic, voiced concern over climate shocks, geopolitical tensions and unprecedented energy, health and food challenges facing least developed countries. Since its return to constitutional order, his country has made remarkable progress in combatting poverty, strengthening the rule of law, fighting against impunity and in the areas of gender equality, women´s empowerment, maternal health, girls’ education, digital development and national reconciliation. However, these gains have been undermined by the 10-year unjust and illegitimate embargo on arms for Central African armed forces and on Central African diamonds. As a victim of geostrategic ambitions related to its natural resources, the Central African Republic wonders how least developed countries can move from potential to prosperity if they continue to face foreign interference that keeps them in dependence and instability, he stressed. Endowed with gold and diamonds, cobalt, oil and uranium, the Central African Republic remains one of the poorest nations in the world, he said, noting that his country has always been considered by certain Western States as a reserve of strategic raw materials. Since its independence, it has been subjected to systematic looting, facilitated by the political instability maintained by certain Western States that finance terrorist armed groups which are mainly led by foreign mercenaries. Recurrent attacks by armed terrorist groups make the country “ungovernable”, preventing the State from exercising its right to sovereignty over natural resources and its legitimate right to self-determination.
Against this background, he asked how least developed countries can move from potential to prosperity without the support of international partners. For three years, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, under pressure from certain Western Powers, have suspended their financial assistance, thus demonstrating their willingness to support geostrategic interests. Disinformation and demonization campaigns carried out by certain foreign media to discourage investors have stripped the country of its immense wealth and means of investing in education, health, transport and energy. “The Central African people have therefore been taken hostage,” he declared, adding that the country has been orphaned when it comes to assistance to least developed countries. In this context, he called on international partners to lift measures that are suspending budgetary assistance and to increase their support to his Government to build a sustainable economy. He also urged for the lifting of the embargo on arms and diamonds imposed on his country.
MAHAMAT IDRISS DÉBY ITNO, President of Chad, said that the Conference offers an opportunity to discuss the true obstacles hampering the development of least developed countries while allowing multilateral partners to assess their support. Highlighting the link between peace and development, he said this is why his country is investing in building its army. Noting Qatar’s role in mediating the Doha Peace Agreement “between the sons of Chad” which played a decisive role in the development of peace in his country, he said his country is now working towards the Chad we want”. Pointing to various efforts, he said the transitional Government is strengthening the legal and institutional mechanisms in order to make social, political and economic development truly inclusive. It financed several development projects and hired young people and is working to develop its infrastructure.
Chad still holds huge untapped potential, he said, adding that vital sectors such as agriculture and technology remain to be explored. His Government will facilitate investments by all those wishing to invest in the country, he said, noting the special economic zones in various areas and efforts to stabilize the business environment. Despite these efforts, Chad still faces obstacles, ranging from natural disasters to the multifaceted impact of climate change. Pointing to the burden of humanitarian pressure faced by his country, including the large number of refugees and internally displaced people, he called for greater international solidarity in implementing the Doha Programme of Action. The Conference should not just be another session of promises that are not kept, he stressed, adding that the people of least developed countries do not need more conferences, they need concrete action that impacts their daily lives.
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA, President of Timor-Leste, detailed his country’s strategic development plan, which envisions it as an upper-middle-income country with a healthy and educated population by 2030. To realize this vision, the plan aims to develop a diversified, inclusive economy that is less dependent on oil and gas revenue; to improve infrastructure to connect people and markets; to build a skilled and healthy workforce; and to promote social protection for the most-vulnerable members of society. While detailing the significant achievements Timor-Leste has made over the last two decades, he pointed out that several challenges must still be addressed. For example, despite a significant decrease in poverty, multidimensional poverty in Timor-Leste is still the highest in the South-East Asia region at 45.8 per cent. However, major infrastructure improvements will enable global and regional market connectivity that is vital for the national economy and trade.
He went on to state that, given current national development progress, the prospects for Timor-Leste achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 is “uncertain”. “Let us be frank,” he urged, emphasizing that if the international community uses the phrase “international partners” genuinely, then the many parts of that partnership must equally share both successes and failures. Noting that his country’s partners tend to cast all blame on the recipient partner for failures while avoiding scrutiny of their own aid programmes that may have contributed to the same, he also pointed out that lenders have shown neither heart, humanity nor wisdom in writing off or restructuring debts held by least developed States. Outlining further challenges his country faces, he stressed that international partnerships play a key role in supporting an enabling environment for structural transformation. While he acknowledged various initiatives to support least developed countries, he underscored that predictable support on trade, concessional financing and access to technology will be key for enabling structural transformation.
IBRAHIM MOHAMED SOLIH, President of Maldives, said his State has graduated from a least developed to a middle-income country. “It is a bittersweet story,” he said, noting that Maldives has been unable to fully realize the promise of prosperity. In this context, he spotlighted vulnerabilities which arise from the country´s geographical size and scatteredness, susceptibility to climate change, lack of economic diversification, inadequate access to development finance and an increase in geopolitical shocks. For small island developing States such as his, extreme vulnerabilities can have the disastrous consequence of wiping out decades of progress and development, he warned, pointing to the Asian tsunami of 2004 which hit the Maldives while it was on the cusp of graduating from least developed country status. In addition to the tragic loss of countless lives, the tsunami also had a tremendous economic impact on the country, wiping out nearly 60 per cent of its GDP. More recently, the pandemic turned Maldives into a no-income country for three months. While making progress on post-pandemic recovery efforts, the current conflict in Europe has created havoc in global energy markets driving up commodity prices and disrupting supply chains. Maldives, once again, is fighting to contain a reversal of its economic recovery. Against this backdrop, he stressed that every country should be able to compete for development resources in a fair and equitable manner to ensure sustainable development gains.
Describing climate change as “the ultimate threat multiplier”, he emphasized that, despite being disproportionately affected, least developed and small island developing States lack access to adequate finance to adapt to a changing climate, reduce emissions and strengthen resilience to climate change impacts. To this end, he called on the developed world to fulfil its obligations in delivering on the collective finance goal of $100 billion per year and fast track the establishment of the loss and damage fund as agreed upon at the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He further underscored that sustainable development cannot be achieved without the full participation of women and girls in all facets of life, including in decision-making.
JULIUS MAADA BIO, President of Sierra Leone, said the world has registered great transformation since the first United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in 1981, with several States graduating from the least developed status. However, persistent structural global inequalities, the pandemic, recent geopolitical tensions and global economic disruptions have resulted in the failure of most of these countries to graduate to middle-income status. He stressed that 14 per cent of the global population lives in least developed countries and continue to grapple with poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition, poor health care and other structural challenges that further expose them to vulnerabilities. In this context, he renewed calls for debt relief and investments in infrastructure that support economic diversification.
Sierra Leone will continue to advance human capital development by investing in people through quality education, health care and food security, he said, adding that his Government will continue to prioritize interventions that address vulnerabilities and exclusion among women, girls, youth, the aged and the disabled. Moreover, he continued, through its 10-year National Innovation and Digital Strategy (2019-2029), his Government will support a vibrant national innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem for the public and private sectors. It will also accelerate efforts to address climate change and diversify its economic activities with a renewed focus on boosting food production and agribusiness, tourism, fisheries and light manufacturing.
ABDEL-FATTAH AL-BURHAN ABDELRAHMAN AL-BURHAN, President of Sudan, said that it is necessary to identify successes but also challenges in the path of the least developed countries. His country has made significant progress since 2019, he said, noting that the transitional Government has been focusing on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, and for the first time in the history of Sudan, more resources have been devoted to education than arms. Currently, it is deploying great efforts in negotiating with the United States Government in order to remove Sudan from the list of terrorist States. The country has also adopted a framework for socioeconomic development, he said, pointing to several reforms, including a programme for macroeconomic stability and various initiatives to invest in human capital.
Highlighting various legislative efforts aimed at improving education, health and accountability, he said that the Government is establishing new laws to enable investment partnerships and liberalize the exchange systems. Noting his country’s vulnerability to climate change, he said that due to the geographical position of Sudan, it often serves as a shelter for refugees from many neighbouring countries. On this matter, he called for support from the international community under the burden-sharing framework. Sudan will include regional and international partners in finding innovative solutions to bring about a better future for the Sudanese people. Noting that the country is looking forward to concluding the transitional period and holding elections, he highlighted the recent adoption of the political framework agreement and said it will lead to stability in Sudan.
MOHAMED YOUNIS MENFI, President of the Presidential Council of the State of Libya, called for support of least developed countries as the world undergoes multiple crises that have resulted in hunger, malnutrition, human rights violations, armed conflict, environmental deterioration and natural disasters. He stressed the importance of strengthening international mechanisms to build peaceful societies free from violence. Despite these challenges, least developed countries are capable of ensuring a better future for their people as they possess significant resource potential which can allow for economic development if appropriate measures are taken. In this context, he voiced support for the Doha Programme of Action development projects that allow for inclusive growth and access to sustainable financing among countries. Moreover, he spotlighted strategies to reduce energy cost — one of the main drivers of progress and development, calling on the international community to prioritize multidimensional support that would facilitate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
He also urged for the establishment of a global emergency fund to confront epidemics, natural disasters and the impacts of wars, ensuring the sustainability of development projects and making sure that medicine, food and vaccines are available to all. Turning to illicit migration, he said it remains a major concern for all as it exhausts the resources of least developed countries and brings about dangerous demographic changes. He called on countries of origin and transit in Africa to encourage refugees to stay in their countries by setting up real development projects that assure them a decent life by reducing tensions in the Sahel region and in the Mediterranean. This would prevent resentment that leads to extremism and transnational organized crime, he added. To this end, he called for a more equitable financial system that would alleviate the debt burden for the least developed countries and help them emerge from poverty.
HAKAINDE HICHILEMA, President of Zambia, stressed that 2023 is a critical year for strengthening international resolve to address several key challenges, particularly by devising workable solutions to help reduce debt vulnerabilities, mitigate climate change and insulate from economic shocks. Welcoming the United Nations “catalytic” role in promoting South-South and other forms of cooperation, he supported the call to reform the international financial system so that it supports sustainable, inclusive and equitable economic growth. He also stressed that, while working to eradicate poverty, the importance of wealth-creation initiatives cannot be overlooked.
Turning to climate change, he called on developed countries to meet their previous pledge of $100 billion per year in climate finance, expressing hope that the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be a “game-changer” in terms of commitments made and honoured. Zambia has placed a premium on ownership and primary responsibility in implementing the Doha Programme of Action, aligning its national development agenda to the overarching goal of structural transformation by promoting investment in energy, transportation, health and water. He also underscored that innovation, technological development, fair trade and improved market access are key to success. He added that, moving forward, his country looks forward to working with its partners to graduate from the least developed country category.
MOHAMED OULD CHEIKH EL GHAZOUANI, President of Mauritania, noting the exceptional circumstances in which the Conference is being held, from the increasing armed conflicts to the lingering impact of the pandemic, said that many gains attained by the international community have been reversed. Everyone knows that least developed countries include more than 1 billion people, he said, adding that the burden of debt and the impact of climate change means that they desperately need assistance from the international community. Noting some positive results including the graduation of three States from the category, he said this limited number proves the need for international solidarity.
Stressing the importance of Sustainable Development Goal 1, he said that eradicating poverty is crucial for least developed countries. Turning to his country’s efforts on that topic, he noted the establishment of a social welfare network and efforts to build a resilient economy. Mauritania’s annual growth rate reached 5.3 per cent in 2022, he said, adding that it is diversifying its agriculture, combating desertification and improving its animal and marine resources. Despite a volatile context, the country has managed to attain peace, he added.
ANDRZEJ DUDA, President of Poland, spotlighting the Russian Federation’s neo-colonial war against Ukraine, asked those present whether this event feels familiar. Poland has been the victim of brutal policies pursued by neighbouring empires, and history teaches that absolute adherence to international law is the best safeguard of peace, security and economic development. “This is not easy to achieve,” he observed, “but there is no third way.” He went on to note that Poland is aware of the challenges arising in other parts of the world and is conscious of the expectations of the Global South in relation to the rich North. The scale of these challenges is enormous as, in addition to the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine, there is protracted instability in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan; swelling numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons; and natural disasters in Pakistan, South Sudan, Syria and Türkiye.
Further, he said that rising prices for food and energy, combined with the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have resulted in alarming levels of malnutrition and hunger. Against that backdrop, he observed that least developed countries fear that the war on the European Union’s border will reduce available resources as the bloc is the biggest donor of developmental aid. For its part, Poland is continuing its efforts to rebuild supply chains of Ukrainian grain to alleviate the food crisis mainly affecting least developed countries. Adding that his country supports the Doha Programme of Action, he expressed hope that the same will contribute to a visible reduction in disparity and harness the potential of women and girls on the way to socioeconomic development in their respective countries.
EVARISTE NDAYISHIMIYE, President of Burundi, said his conflict-affected country based its poverty-eradication strategy on human development by involving all citizens in developing activities. In addition, his Government has placed young people and women at the heart of development projects through youth empowerment programmes, among others. He also stressed the importance of digitalization. In Burundi, agriculture is the most growth-promoting sector, he said, highlighting a number of Government efforts to promote the agricultural sector in order to make the profession of the farmer the profession of the future. Thus, all sectors of Burundian society have been mobilized to strengthen the agricultural value chain, he said.
To counter climate change and environmental degradation, he cited his Government’s “Burundi Covered” programme, which seeks to tackle climate change through reforestation, civil education and environmental protection. He also stressed the importance of strengthening international solidarity with least developed countries on the path to sustainable graduation, noting that there is strength in unity. Developed countries must realize that it is time to support development initiatives in least developed countries to support their economies, he asserted. Burundi does not see itself as a poor country as it has ample development opportunities. However, it lacks start-up capital. He concluded with an appeal to support Burundi on its path to significantly reducing its degree of vulnerability and help the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
MSWATI III, King of Eswatini, said the Conference is an opportunity to prepare progress reports on the Sustainable Development Goals. Although his country has graduated from the least developed category, the challenges it faces as a middle-income country are similar, he said. Expressing concern that some of the countries that had previously graduated from the category have been greatly hit by the health and socioeconomic crises, he said there is an urgent need to support States such as Eswatini that have experienced a massive reduction in development aid assistance. Inviting investment in the pharmaceutical sector of his country, he also highlighted the national agriculture development fund, which will support smallholder farmers, including women, by providing them capital for green farming.
Although Eswatini only emits 0.007 per cent of global carbon emissions, he said, it has committed to climate change mitigation and adaptation through an ambitious nationally determined contribution. It is also focusing on creating decent jobs and using digital transformation as a driving force for innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth. Highlighting a youth programme that supports entrepreneurship, education, skills development and health, he said this initiative which has the support of the private sector, will make a significant impact on job creation in the country.
HASSAN SHEIKH MOHAMUD, President of Somalia, said that, while his country possesses abundant untapped potential, it has been hindered by a legacy of prolonged conflict and political instability. While the Government is working to address both through dialogue and an inclusive State-building process, these challenges are compounded by climate change, which has exacerbated drought and food insecurity. To ensure that the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable are protected, international efforts are needed. For its part, he reported that the Government is working to grow the economy, create jobs and raise domestic revenue. Social protection does not — and should not — mean handouts, he emphasized; rather, social protection is about creating opportunities for self-respect and dignity that builds on communal resources and resilience.
He went on to report that his country is working hard on national economic reform to achieve debt relief through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. Somalia is a resourceful, rich nation with one of the world’s longest coastlines, fertile agricultural land, strong digital connectivity across its society and a diaspora 2 million strong. Further, it is making tangible progress today thanks to its resilient people and its international partners. Against that backdrop, he urged that “all manner of effective partnerships able to deliver results” be strengthened further in the near future, and that countries learn from the successes and challenges of others’ development journeys.
TEUEA TOATU, Vice-President of Kiribati, called for collective efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. As a small island nation and a least developed country, Kiribati’s journey to prosperity continues to be marked by an interplay of social, political and environmental challenges. COVID-19 continues to linger as the country recovers from the pandemic, building back its tourism industry. Warning against destabilizing political tensions and heightened economic risks that affect the global market, he welcomed the adoption of the Doha Programme of Action. Investing in its people remains Kiribati’s priority, he said, stressing the importance of sustainable development. Moreover, he continued, his Government views young people as the true agents of change and is determined to empower them through economic participation. However, the infrastructure needed to realize this initiative remains a challenge.
Stressing the need to eradicate poverty and empower marginalized groups — including women, youth and disabled persons — he recognized the need for global partnership. Kiribati’s remoteness and vulnerability to climate change poses a significant challenge, he said, highlighting the need for public–private partnership that would ensure sustainability. Climate change continues to threaten the country´s shores, he cautioned, adding that Kiribati is building back better and is ready to play its part in implementing the Doha Programme of Action and in South–South cooperation. The country´s graduation status from the least developed country category has been deferred to 2024, he said, declaring: “let us be proactive and not reactive”.
MARIAM CHABI TALATA ZIMÉ YÉRIMA, Vice-President of Benin, stressing that least developed countries cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in isolation, said that the Conference is an opportunity to review the distance they have covered together. The number of those countries has almost doubled and only six countries have graduated from that category. Pointing to the marginalization of least developed countries in international trade and frequent slumps in their growth curve, she noted that the United Nations has implemented four programmes of action covering various dimensions of development in those countries. None of these four have resulted in the full achievement of their goals, she pointed out.
Over the last 40 years, she said, least developed countries have seen their capacities diminish due to the structural adjustment programmes imposed on them. The largest donor countries devote very little of their GDP to ODA, she said, adding that this is why least developed countries are unable to mobilize resources for development. Structural adjustment programmes are used to discipline failing States, she said, adding that Benin dreams of a sustainable transformation of its economy. Noting that her country shares numerous problems with West African States, she called for measures adapted to the subregional realities of least developed countries.
ESPERANÇA MARIA DA COSTA, Vice-President of Angola, noted that many gains achieved have been eroded by challenges present in the international environment — namely, geopolitical tensions, the consequences of climate change and the health crisis — that have impacted least developed countries’ ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. She underscored, therefore, that increasing resilience to external shocks should be at the centre of the international community’s efforts. She pointed out that this is reflected in the Doha Programme of Action, which her Government is committed to implementing. Towards that end, it has introduced an ambitious programme to strengthen social protection, promote economic growth, fight corruption and reinforce the rule of law.
However, she reported that, despite vigorous reform over the last five years, Angola has recorded continuous economic recession. As a result, the Government was forced to review its development strategy, and the next national development plan focuses on human-resource development, increasing production and modernizing infrastructure. She added that her country is committed to implement the Doha Programme of Action in a smooth, sustainable manner that ensures that no one is left behind.
PHILIP ISDOR MPANGO, Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania, said the Conference comes at a time when least developed countries are traversing through multiple global challenges, including geopolitical conflicts, climate change crises and devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are in addition to the unsustainable debt burdens, food insecurity and weak productive capacities that are still weighing heavily on these countries. This deadly combination of global challenges stands in the way of graduating for most least developed countries. Most are far away from attaining the envisioned goals, he said, pointing out that only 4 out of 24 of these countries have graduated.
In this context, he welcomed the Doha Programme of Action, which prioritizes investment in human capital, structural transformation, addressing the climate crisis and financing through global partnership. Sustained commitment to policy, institutional and regulatory reforms and targeting in order to grow the economy, as well as stimulate private sector development, are needed to expedite the Programme’s implementation, he said. Moreover, he stressed the importance of forging strategic partnerships, including regional, international, South-South and Government to Government. Despite the setback caused by COVID-19 and geopolitical tensions, he highlighted that the Tanzanian economy is solid with a strong recovery trajectory and the country remains one of the fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa and among the least developed countries.
ADRIANO AFONSO MALEIAN, Prime Minister of Mozambique, said the implementation of the Doha Programme of Action will play a strategic role in catalysing sustainable graduation for least developed countries. Highlighting the importance of improving logistics and transport infrastructure in those countries, he pointed to a number of sectors that would benefit from such improvements, including tourism. It is essential to diversify the economic structures of least developed countries, he said.
His Government, he continued, has established several initiatives aimed at finding space to generate increased incomes as that is the best way to fight individual and collective poverty. Mozambique is also focusing on value-chain-based agriculture, he said, adding that the involvement of national and foreign private sectors is crucial to ensure the success of this project. Concluding, he reiterated his country’s commitment for the successful implementation of the Doha Programme of Action.