The harsh geographical realities and isolation of this region of islands nations have made regional development integration and cooperation a necessity. At the core lies our shared sovereignty—among us and with other players in today’s global village—and our shared ideals. Certain aspects of regional development are guided by the Pacific Plan document. In 2012, Pacific islands leaders issued the Waiheke Declaration on Sustainable Economic Development in Cook Islands. Among other things, the declaration marked the leaders’ recognition of sexual and reproductive health, maternal neo-natal child health, gender equality, youth and the elimination of violence against women as pertinent issues to be addressed.
The progeny of the Pacific Plan can be partially attributed to the economic theory of clubs— which boils down to the consolidation of assets for benefits that can be collectively enjoyed or “regionalism” in the Pacific context. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) relates well to this concept because it intimates that the Pacific bloc can advance in development together, in a self-sustaining way, to accommodate the realisation of widespread and multiple benefits.
While recognising that incountry programmes are vital for development results, the UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office (PSRO) also utilises this regional platform. The organisation recognises the need for Pacific Islands countries to consolidate existing strengths in order to have their voices heard, as serious actors in the global arena.
An enabling environment and good governance are critical for regional efforts to contribute to national economic growth. While countries are at various stages of the demographic transition, the youth (people between 15 and 24 years) population number about two million, or a fifth of the region.
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The 44th meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), comprising the 13 islands nations (less suspended Fiji) plus Australia and New Zealand, will take place in Majuro, the capital of the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) next month. What should we expect from this annual jamboree of our leaders this year? The arrival of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, brought a lot of media attention to the Cook Islands at last year’s PIF. RMI, as the host for this year, deserves similar attention from the United States. I am certainly not expecting a repeat of the opening ceremony in Rarotonga of last year. It was appalling to see footage of our leaders being carried on the shoulders of Cook Islander men. Why our leaders accepted such an outrageous treatment is a mystery to me. Folks carrying their leaders would be pardonable if the Pacific islands region was basking in peace and prosperity. Reality is far from the above. Most of the islands nations of the Pacific are witnessing rising tides of poverty. A few are starring down the possibilities of conflict. The reality of a struggling region calls for a more sombre PIF this year.
Leadership: Leadership means service. Traditional village-leaders gain their positions of authority by serving their people. They are the first to stand up for their people and the last to sit atop the shoulders of their men. Many of our national leaders are doing a descent job, some in very trying circumstances. Most are honest, hardworking, and able-bodied men who have stepped up to the challenges of national leadership. So why do our leaders tolerate the pompous treatment repeatedly given to them at PIF meetings? Some will point out that it is part of the island-culture.