2014: Fiftieth Anniversary of the Group of 77 From Unity Celebrating Diversity to Diversity Celebrating Unity

The emergence of the Group of 77 is now recognized as one of the most important political phenomena of the post second world war era especially within the evolution of the United Nations system.  However this statement still underestimates the significance of that enduring Compact of the 77 developing countries in 1964 in terms of a singular achievement of our humanity that was to influence and reshape multilateral diplomacy and consequently the economic, social and ecological management of the relationship of the human race with our blue planet.

Fifty years later we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Group of 77, we can only look back and wonder how those founding members managed the near impossible by creating a compact that not only greatly enhanced the function of the United Nations but was the very essence of the democratic principles of equity and justice, giving as it did an effective voice to the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the disinherited, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the exploited and empowered them on the road to mastering their own destiny.

The unity of the Group of 77 was not founded on homogeneity of political systems or a single identity of economic interests. They were based on a shared and common perception of the inequitable nature of the then existing economic order, the unfair and unethical rules of the game and the necessity to change them.

The early achievements of the Group of 77 within UNCTAD were remarkable by all standards of multilateral diplomacy.  The Group pushed the boundaries of development for a new world order well beyond the humble expectations of the founders.  As an alliance and a compact that had no official institutional architecture or secretarial support system, no written rules of procedures, and that worked solely by consensus without having to resort to voting on their common stand in all the fifty years of its existence, is nothing short of a miracle and yet with single voice, the Group spoke and negotiated in every field of human endeavor on behalf of the greater majority of the human race; this, in spite of the significant differences among and diversity within the members of the Group.

This diverse and heterogeneous group was able—to the frustration of their interlocutors—to overcome civilizations prejudices and conflicting political ideologies to work together fashioning consensus on intricate economic issues that impacted the daily life of their citizens. In the summary of one seasoned diplomat those developing countries left their differences at the door step outside the meeting rooms as if they were personal baggage.

That is not to say either that there were no formidable challenges that the Group faced in a fast changing geopolitical world in which it was engaged. Yet by the late eighties the Group system was the only feasible tool for multilateral decision making in every part of the United Nations system.

At the very heart of that grouping of developing countries was the desire to foster south­south cooperation.  At the origins of the Group of 77 that cooperation was seen as a demonstration of their unity and a countervailing power vis a vis the North in the negotiating processes and a confirmation of the solidarity of the Group. It was truly unity celebrating diversity.

The Group of 77 like any other institution is not immune to change or insulated from its impact. The world in which the Group was born became a vastly different place two decades later. The geopolitical and economic geography was to change so drastically with the fall of the Berlin wall, the supremacy of the market place, the rise of the single economic system, and the dominance of the Washington consensus. With all these factors and with the advent of globalization the change became so profound that the Group had no option but to respond to such changes through transformation, mitigation and adaptation in time and space, in their method of work and organization, and by implementing a differentiated development agenda. However drastic these changes may have been, the Group of 77 brooked no compromise to the moral foundation of their unity.

It was not an easy task to bridge the gap between those who favoured efficiency and competition and those who valued the role of the state in ensuring equity and justice. The developing countries in the Group of 77 also realized that the development agenda was changing, that solutions to development had to be diversified and that a "one size fits all" or the "equal gain solution" were no longer possible or even feasible given the developing countries' economic, social and ecological diversity, and domestic capacities. Also with the new development agenda, soft law replaced legally binding instruments in the UN in almost all spheres of human endeavor; the Group of 77 had to acquiesce to the new state of affairs.

Several institutions close to the heart of the Group of 77 have by now been transformed from consensus building negotiations and rule making to knowledge based institutions devoted to policy dialogue and capacity building.  Nevertheless the developing countries in the Group of 77 and China have sought and gained recognition for common but differentiated responsibilities on crucial issues as sustainable development or climate change, common goods, as well as policy space for their development process.

Over the last fifty years the Group of 77 has grown and matured into an edifice of multilateral diplomacy from a group that represented unity celebrating diversity to one that represents diversity celebrating unity. It is an indispensible architecture of the United Nations system.

The Group will continue to evolve.  There will always be new and emerging challenges.  Currently it must address the perfect storm of our human existence and the formidable combined challenge of climate change, security and endemic financial and economic crises. For that it will need an enhanced operational and institutional support in recognition of what it can contribute for the betterment of humanity in the next fifty years.