Eritrea’s methodology of decentralizing development should be a shared example in the continent

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“Eritrea’s methodology of decentralizing development should be a shared example in the continent” Ms. Susan Namondo Ngongi

It has been almost nine months since Ms. Susan Namondo Ngongi has took up the office of UN Resident Coordinator, UN Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Eritrea.

Eritrea Profile welcomes the UNDP Resident Representative taking excerpts from an interview Ms. Susan had with ERI-TV’s show ‘Open Mic’. In the interview, Ms. Susan, talked about her impressions and thoughts on Eritrea as well as the collaborations extended between the Government of Eritrea and the UNDP.

Thank you for being here with us.

Thank you very much for having me.

Let’s begin with the functions of UNDP in your own words.

UNDP and the entire UN family are composed by institutions created by governments to support governments and their people in their development aspirations. The family here in Eritrea is not so big. We have about six resident agencies and many more operating from outside, like UNESCO, for instance. UNDP functions in many ways, but, basically, what we do is draft strategic frame works and sign a plan of cooperation with the government. The latest that we have now, for example, is extended from 2017 to 2021. UNDP has been in Eritrea since 1992. It had a liaison office way back then. And I think the journey UNDP, and the rest of the UN family for that matter, has had with the Eritrean Government has been of a growing collaboration and partnership.

What sort of coordination would these collaborations and partnerships, which you are talking of, be?

Speaking in terms of cooperation I think it has changed over the years UNDP has functioned in Eritrea in collaboration with the government. But if we take the latest partnership for cooperation as an instance, we are working in several areas like that of social services, education, health, agriculture, environment and climate change. Collaboration and support have been growing in relation to Eritrea’s development plans and aspirations. My understanding is that over the years UNDP has engaged in many development inspirations of Eritrea. I am proud of so many things that have been carried out in Eritrea. I am relatively new but I am happy of many things I have seen. For example, the Anseba Region is a semi-arid region, so water availability is a big challenge. But farmers are trying to harvest water through the construction of dams and check dams. Also, there have been efforts to help farmers have better management of land and water resources. Another piece of work that I have come across and I am really, really proud of was providing alternative solar energy to the inhabitants of Debub Region. It is a joint project involving the Government of Eritrea, UNDP and the European Union. Its aim is to make sure that about eight thousand households in the region have the benefit from electricity accessibility. The work is going on at the moment and we are hoping that by the end of this year these eight thousand households will be able to use solar energy. So, we are doing different pieces of work, supporting here and there, where the government thinks we are useful most. I think it is yielding great results. I believe that Eritrea has one of the best audited functions in the continent. And those are the sort of things that I hope Eritrea shares with the rest of Africa.

What has impressed you the most during your stay in Eritrea?

I am impressed by the development facets of Eritrea. I have seen great achievements in many sectors. But I can’t help recognize that Eritrea is only 26 years old. So what has impressed me the most is that the country, even after thirty years of a devastating war, is back on a strong path of development thanks to the resilience of the people. I think that has impressed me the most. All of the achievements we see in Eritrea happened within this context, and by no stretch of imagination am I suggesting that things are absolutely perfect in Eritrea. There is still so much to be done, but the efforts that have been deployed to try and get there is impressive.

What did you observe particularly in the advancements Eritrea has made in the health sector?

Health is one of the best documented areas of Eritrea’s achievements. For me, especially MDG4, on reducing ‘under five’ mortality, was remarkable. If I remember my figures right, I think, in 1995, the figures were a hundred and thirty seven babies dying per thousand life births, but by 2015, it had dropped to forty-seven children dying per one thousand life births. That is a significant achievement and I think Eritrea was within the top ten countries that registered these achievements on the African Continent. Also, in terms of maternal mortality, we know that the rates went significantly down from nine hundred and something in 1995 to four hundred and something in 2015. HIV AIDS was also an area of massive progress and was supported by recent policies in 2015.

I understand that there was a test and treat policy. Accordingly, anybody that got tested and had the virus would be treated regardless of the CD4 count level. This is outstanding, truly. I strongly believe that we are heading towards the elimination of mother-child transmission of HIV AIDS. Therefore, I hope that these extraordinary success stories are spoken of more publicly and told of. We need for more data to be out there so that we can tell these stories of Eritrea and its development achievements. Data is incredibly motivating. If your people know about registered goals and have access to related data they get to be motivated and want to do more in various aspects of the development undertakings they might be interested in. It is like the watches you put on to count the steps you take in a day. It might be a funny of example but it tells how many steps you’ve done motivating you for more each time. Therefore, data cannot be, in my view, over stated. Luckily in Eritrea, you do have a sound institution, the National Statics Office. I think it needs more people working there and needs to be strengthened.

As part of the overall National Development, the wellbeing of women has been a fundamental scheme of the Government of Eritrea. What about securing the rights of women? Do you see the changes achieved on the ground?

Absolutely. For instance, female genital mutilation has gone down tremendously. Concerted actions were invested from many components of the government like the Ministry of Health, the Ministry Of Labor and Human Welfare, the women’s organization, NUEW, more stakeholders and communities. I think it will be good if Eritrea would share its experiences, practices, approaches and ideologies that led to such achievements with other countries. 
I noticed that key undertakings and investments are decentralized. That, I think, is important. Because for many things that have to do with development and social wellbeing like, for example in the case of FGM, what you need most is an enabling atmosphere. You need law enforcement and a cultural understanding that lead the people to abide by law. In Eritrea, the chain of activities is very well managed and has well planned backups with policies enforced to shape such conditions.

What do you think about the Eritrean policy of stretching out its development programs to the furthest places, focusing its attention on less developed areas and then, to towns and cities?

I think it is a very nice approach to achieving National Development. The GDP figures of many countries are encouraging, but when you look a little bit closer you realize that only few people are enjoying the growth while many still suffer. Even in, some cases, where the spread of growth is vast, there do exist particular group of people who do not benefit from the growth. However, what we understand about the Eritrean Government’s policy is that, indeed, any kind of growth can be equitable. In Eritrea, development is equilibrated. Moreover, the government has deliberately put more effort and resources on developing parts of the country that were less developed before. So, that is definitely a good thing. However, coming back to the point I made earlier as regards data, it is an excellent thing that the government is doing great but how do you tell this account to others? Or how do you make sure that all Eritreans understand the policy? When you have data made available, all parts of the society can understand and relate to the overall development plan. That being said, I think what the Government of Eritrea is doing in decentralizing development activities is totally laudable.

At the end, summarizing your views in these nine months of office, is there anything you’d like to say?

I think there are many lessons to be learned from Eritrea. I think the key thing would be for the government and the people to be willing to share their story. I don’t want to give the impression that everything is smooth and perfect in Eritrea and there is still so much to be done but I do have a message to the People and Government of Eritrea. If you have done so well in areas that at present tend to be problematic in other parts of the continent such as malaria, HIV AIDS control from mother to child and more, it is very important that your methodologies, experiences and stories are shared with other countries. And who knows? Eritrea, then, might also learn from other countries with better experiences in other areas.