South-South Champions: His Excellency Taneti Maamau,
Beretitenti (President) of the Republic of Kiribati and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration
“…. Our ancestors navigated the vast Pacific Ocean, to create a home in the 33 beautiful islands that have now become the sovereign Republic of Kiribati. Through challenging times, the people of Kiribati endured and remained resilient…This is the epitome of the resilient nature of “te i-Kiribati”, which will guide our policies and the way we engage at international forums, including the UNFCCC. A resilience posture is consistent with several South-South principles including a demand driven and owner-led development process that encourages home-made solutions and learning from countries with a shared history.” (H.E. Taneti Maamau, 2021)
Your Excellency, why is South-South cooperation important for Kiribati?
South-South cooperation provides a viable and exciting cooperation path that complement the North-South development cooperation model which, on its own, was not sufficient for developing countries to achieve the bold ambitions for their people, most of which are translated into internationally agreed development initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other international agreements pertaining to issues that are global in nature. There is also a growing understanding that current efforts, at all levels, to achieve commitments under the SDGs, Paris Agreement – under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC), and more recently – to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, are mutually reinforcing and offer a unique opportunity not to be missed to address these interrelated global issues as we mend and inspire a world towards a better footing to fulfil the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda).
Whilst Kiribati welcomes the renewed commitment of developed countries to provide support to the developing countries for the realisation of the 2030 Agenda through bilateral and triangular cooperation, it is also acutely aware of the importance and potential of new partnerships it has and could have with its Global South family through South-South cooperation.
Climate change is a serious challenge for Kiribati, affecting almost every facet of daily life. Adding COVID-19 to this development challenge, how has Kiribati used South-South and triangular cooperation to respond to these challenges?
In Kiribati, the concept of resilience is well understood. It has been the foundation of our survival, from the times of our ancestors – to this day. To build resilience, our ancestors navigated the vast Pacific Ocean, to create a home in the 33 beautiful islands that have now become the sovereign Republic of Kiribati. Through challenging times, the people of Kiribati endured and remained resilient, living in peace and harmony with their environment and our friendly neighbors. This is the epitome of the resilient nature of “te i-Kiribati”, which will guide our policies and the way we engage at international forums, including the UNFCCC. A resilience posture is consistent with several South-South principles including a demand driven and owner-led development process that encourages home-made solutions and learning from countries with a shared history.
Kiribati remains vulnerable to Climate Change and my government is committed to build national resilience and enhance actions aligned with climate-resilient sustainable development. Building resilience and diversity remains a core foundation of the Government’s Vision for 20 Years to create a wealthier, healthier and more peaceful nation, for the people of Kiribati. Accordingly, my government has aligned our 20 year vision with the development guiding frameworks from the United Nations (including the 2030 Agenda), the SAMOA Pathway, and other related agreements, in a manner that prioritizes our people but recognises that we are not in this alone.
Furthermore, how has Kiribati found a way forward amid international political discourse dominated by narratives of “sinking islands” and “disappearing nations”?
In 2016, when my government developed and proclaimed the Kiribati Vision for 20 Years Plan (KV 20), the nation’s first-ever long-term development strategy, it was the beginning of a paradigm shift. I proposed a plan that would see the country transform, develop and survive. The plan advocates self-development and the establishment of innovative and strategic partnerships for Kiribati to sustainably develop and transform, amid the international political discourse dominated by misleading narratives of “sinking islands” and “disappearing nations”. In fact, the KV20 encourages the people of Kiribati to embrace its development challenges, including climate change, and turn them into opportunities. It boldly proposes that Kiribati could become a wealthy, healthy and peaceful nation through a range of transformational development projects, mostly premised on marine resources and tourism. The plan provides a strong political statement that Kiribati, as a sovereign nation, will continue to adapt and address the impacts of climate change, and encourages the importance of building “strategic partnerships”. It also brings forth the necessity for Kiribati to begin to engage with its partners in a different light – one that leverages Kiribati’s expansive ocean territory and resources, rich cultural features and heritage, and the resilience of its people, in efforts to build a “wealthy, healthy and peaceful, large Ocean State”. The plan also highlights that Kiribati’s most important resources are its people, and that it plans to develop its human resources to allow for a prosperous future in which the people of Kiribati will continue to live on their own land, in their own homes, on their own terms.
Our KV20 offers a consolidated framework that provides meaningful, impactful, innovative and transformative development. The plan was developed with the people at the heart of our development aspiration. It is informed by inclusive “whole-of-island” and “whole-of-government” consultations making it a vision for and of Kiribati and its people.
The KV20 places significant emphasis on “strategic partnerships” to enable the realization of sustainable development and recognizes the importance of South-South and triangular cooperation activities. Its policy focus is also well aligned with SDG 17, which advocates for innovative means of implementation to support global partnerships for sustainable development. With this strategic national document, Kiribati feels that cooperation objectives and outcomes including through South-South and triangular cooperation (SS &TrC) will be most impactful and sustainable when aligned to the KV20. My government appreciates and recognizes measures taken through SS & TrC to achieve the sustainable development goals.
What would you like to see introduced or changed in the way UNOSSC has been applying South-South cooperation in Kiribati and the Pacific region? How can UNOSSC further facilitate Kiribati’s work to help scale up South-South and triangular cooperation?
I wish to emphasise the importance of ensuring that all development activities, including South-South cooperation initiatives, need to be aligned with the KV20 to ensure that objectives and outcomes are sustainable. I am optimistic that SSC activities can be implemented through partnerships that recognise our shared opportunities and vulnerabilities as developing countries, and underscore the importance of collaboration and diplomacy, in joint-efforts to realise transformative development. I believe that this will enhance and increase the outcomes of our South-South cooperation. While facing common challenges that require innovative solutions, we welcome opportunities to explore further development opportunities with all South-South partners.
Your Excellency, are there any other issues that you would like us to bring to the attention of the readers?
I take note with appreciation the achievements made through South-South cooperation including through triangular cooperation in Kiribati to date as a complement to the traditional North-South cooperation. Kiribati is excited of the diverse opportunities moving forward and welcomes partners to intensify efforts to realise greater development efforts in this regard. Keeping with our shared commitment made in Nairobi at the 2009 High-Level United Nations Conference on South-South Cooperation, we stand by the stance that the impact of South-South cooperation should be assessed with in the context of improving, as appropriate, its quality in a results-oriented manner. I am pleased to announce that my government is preparing a dedicated report on SS & TrC towards demonstrating what has been achieved and to assess the next steps in line with our 20-year vision. With the rapid growth of digital economies, and the rampant and dreadful impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in unprecedented challenges never faced before, it would be a necessity to revitalize new, innovative and robust national and global systems to complement such profound changes.
His Excellency Taneti Maamau is the 5th President of Kiribati and is currently serving his second term in this Office. His leadership steered Kiribati onto the first ever long-term vision of the country known as the Kiribati Vision for 20 years (2016 – 2036). The ambitious vision would enable Kiribati to become wealthy, healthy, peaceful and resilient.
While in office, President Maamau has been instrumental in delivering a broad range of social and economic reforms to enhance sustainable growth. Notable achievements under his initial four-year administration are the recognition of Kiribati as Champion against corruption by UN PRAC and a champion under the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group for Sustainable Coastal Fisheries.
Hailed from the Island of Onotoa in Southern Kiribati His Excellency led his, Tobwaan Kiribati Party, to victory in the 2016 election. President Maamau graduated with a Master in Economics Studies from the University of Queensland and had a successful career in various Government Ministries. He is married to Teiraeng Tentoa from Tabiteuea Island in Southern Gilberts, and they have 3 children and 4 grandchildren.