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Trials of the Coastless: How the U.N.’s Landlocked Developing Countries Get Along

The United Nations Department dedicated to these countries was founded in 2001, and is known as the “Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States”, abbreviated by the somewhat unpronounceable acronym UN-OHRLLS. The Department is headed by an official with the rank of Under Secretary General, currently Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu of the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South-Central Pacific. Ms. ‘Utoikamanu , appointed in 2017, is a highly- experienced Tongan civil servant, who has served her country as both Foreign Minister and as Ambassador to the United Nations in New York. While her portfolio is a broader one, it is of vital importance to the Landlocked States in particular.

The original OHRLLs mandate from 2001 is very specific, and places particular emphasis on the problems of these nations’ transport, since this is critical for bringing citizens and workers in and out of their countries, as well as bringing in equipment and bringing their goods to market.

A Conference was held in 2003 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, primarily to deal with the “constraints” posed by transport problems. It included Policy Improvements, but especially the upgrading of rail and road infrastructure. This has led to a spate of railroad-building, particularly in East Africa: the old narrow-gauge line from Mombasa to Nairobi has been rebuilt in standard-gauge, and will eventually extend around Lake Victoria all the way to Rwanda, and perhaps Burundi as well. An effort has also begun for technical and financial assistance, with the aid of donor countries.

This primacy of transport issues was still in the minds of U.N. planners eleven years later in 2014, when they developed a further program, the “Vienna Program of Action”, specifically for the Landlocked States. Its Program had six clear priorities:

1) Transit Policy Issues

2) The Infrastructure of Transport, Energy and Communications

3) International Trade, and Trade Facilitation

4) Regional Integration and Cooperation

5) Economic Transformation

6) Finding Means of Implementation

This Plan applies to the 32 Landlocked Countries: 16 in Africa, 4 in Europe, 10 in Asia, and a final 2 in Latin America.

A more recent development for the Landlocked Countries has been the involvement of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Its work has included the identification of growth opportunities, the measurement of productive capacities and the provision of advisory services to countries that require them. And in the very recent past, the Chairmanship of the Landlocked Countries Group has passed from Paraguay to Kazakhstan—which is not anyone’s idea of a “developing” economy. So the Group seems set for even further, continued growth.


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