What do new UN goals hold for Africa?
THE Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) adopted by United Nations (UN) member states in 2000 will expire at the end of this year.
Replacing them will be 17 goals and targets — the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) — designed to shape the global development agenda and frame the political and economic policies of developing countries for the next 15 years.
Given the mixed record of the MDGS, and especially their lack of contextual understanding and relevance in African countries, the emergence of the SDGS raises the question: “What do the new goals mean for Africa and will they be any different from the MDGS?” This is important given the shifting global political and economic landscape since 2000.
MDGS aimed to eradicate poverty, while improving education, gender equality, healthcare and the environment. While a number of Latin American and Asian countries have reached these targets, the “MDG 2014 Report” by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) found that sub-saharan Africa is furthest from reaching the goals, despite growing by more than two percent above global average economic growth since 2000.
The millennium development goals sought to improve the lives of people living in the global south by reducing poverty and hunger, as well as improving access to health, education and water and sanitation.
Six of the eight goals mention women and girls as priority targets. Goal three seeks to promote gender equality and empower women.
As the deadline for achieving the MDGS looms, how successful have the goals been in empowering women?
UN Women predicts that, at the current pace of change, it will take about 50 years to achieve parity in parliaments, and more than 80 years before women are on an equal footing with men in terms of economic participation.
According to the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-ngcuka, the MDGS presented a much narrower focus than the Beijing platform for action, which was signed at the fourth world conference on women, five years before the Millennium Declaration was agreed. Quite a lot of the content of the Beijing document was left out of the MDGS.
“The MDGS five years later (than Beijing) had a much smaller agenda. In a way, goal three focused on leadership and education. Certainly one regret is that (the goal) didn’t include violence against women or have an emphasis on human rights.
In some cases, governments put a lot of energy into implementing the MDGS so much that Beijing, which was more comprehensive, began to fall between the cracks,” she said.
Africa has made significant strides in primary education and gender equality. There are 54-million more children attending primary school, and more girls attend both primary and secondary school. Still, 30-million children are not in school. More than half of them are girls.
Meanwhile, the effect of the MDGS can also be seen in more women in positions of power across Africa. We have seen the first female heads of state in Liberia and Malawi, and countries such as SA and Rwanda measure up favourably against recognised democracies for the number of women in parliament and min- isterial positions. On some of the other measures, performance across the continent is less impressive. For example, poverty rates have declined, but this is arguably due to rapid economic growth, not the MDGS.
We have seen some growth in jobs in Africa but the quality of jobs remains a challenge, with a large percentage employed inconsistently or in “vulnerable jobs”.
A disputed area of measure in African economies is income inequality. While Uneca insists this has declined, many analysts dispute this given the rebasing of some key economies in Africa, which has resulted in larger than expected gross domestic products and, with that, a wider gap between the rich and poor.
Africa has come a long way since 2000. But most would argue that its socioeconomic progress over the past 15 years is less about the MDGS and more the result of increased investment, key structural changes that have enabled a more open and connected Africa, a better business environment granting access to the vast potential the continent has to offer, and the key imperative: economic growth. After all, African policy makers had very little to do with the first iteration of UN goals for development back in 2000.
While many are sceptical about Africa’s ability to meet the targets of the new set of complex SDGS, this time it does seem different. Africans are far more aware of their continent’s development needs, and there is a growing consensus around “African solutions for Africa’s problems”.
Moreover, there is greater cohesion and a higher degree of diplomatic sophistication as decision makers consider changing global dynamics with the commercial interests Africa wields.
Africans are now actively involved in the global development debate. In this respect, the African Union drafted a Common African Position, sketching out Africa’s development agenda in an effort to narrow the divide between those thinking about and formulating development goals and those living it day to day.
White is the director of the Centre for Dynamic Markets (CDM) at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
MDGS sought to improve the lives of people living in the global south by reducing poverty and hunger.