What do new UN goals hold for Africa?

Lesotho Times - - Opinion - Lyal White

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.

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