In the last 15 years, so much has been said, done and undone about the notorious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They are the eight goals globally agreed upon in the year 2000, with the target year of achievement being 2015. In less than two months therefore, it will be time to say goodbye to the MDG rhetoric and say hello to a new global agenda for development: the Sustainable Development Goals.
What exactly is the difference between the MDGs and SDGs? How significant is this transition and will it matter to the development needs of a continent like Africa?
THE MDGs: So Close, Yet So Far
The MDGs agreed upon by all member states of the United Nations in 2000 to be achieved by 2015 included eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.
The final 2015 report of the United Nations on the attainment of MDGs notes that ‘unprecedented efforts have resulted in profound achievements’ but points to the fact that ‘despite many successes, the poorest and most vulnerable people are being left behind’.
Expressed in simpler terms, progress made towards attainment of MDGs is best described as variegated, so say the least. There is an appreciable level of disparity in the levels of achievement of the different goals, but more important is the practical ramifications of reported successes. For instance, the UN report notes that primary school net enrolment rate – a major indicator of MDG 2 on achieving universal primary education – in developing regions of the world reached 91 per cent in 2015, up from 83 per cent in 2000. Specific mention is made of Sub-Saharan Africa having the best record of improvement in this respect, having achieved a 20 percentage point increase in net enrolment rate from 2000 to 2015, compared to just 8 percentage points in the preceding decade.
Whilst progress of this nature is being celebrated and probably should be, what it does not tell is the fact that a sizeable number of countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa have primary school completion rate below 60 per cent. An African Development Bank report notes that, as of 2014 almost 22 per cent of the region’s primary age children are out of school, a third of primary school students drop out without acquiring minimum basic competencies in mathematics and reading, whilst the skills and quality content of the education systems in most countries remain questionable.
Without denying the credit due the global community in terms of the celebrated success of the MDGs, caution and reflection, rather than outright celebration is probably the best way to go. The fact is that, only a couple of targets under the MDGs, such as increase in official development assistance and access to piped drinking water was somewhat achieved. All other targets were either narrowly missed or missed by a considerable margin by 2015.
THE Era of the SDGs
But all that is old story now, 2015 is almost gone and it will soon be the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These new set of universal goals is expected to be achieved by UN members in the next 15 years. Unlike the 8 MGS, this time around the list is made up of 17 broad goals, which I recommend you go through, if you have the time to do so.
Within the 17 goals are a further 169 targets to operationalise the broad goals. Advocates point out that unlike the MDGs, SDGs are a product of wide consultation involving a working group with membership from 70 countries, alongside global thematic conversations and door-to-door surveys. If all goes according to plan, the attainment of these goals will herald the end of global poverty by 2030.
But things like this hardly go to plan. The goals are already being criticized for being too broad and it is not difficult to see why. The unwieldy nature of the wording of these goals makes them difficult to understand, especially for those for whom they are created. It would appear that the need to achieve some form of global consensus for the goals have overshadowed the practical implications of the goals themselves. It is intriguing to see how the measuring of all 169 targets will go.
If the conference held in Addis Ababa in July on the financing of the SDGs is anything to go by, it is difficult to see what difference the transition or transposition of MDGs with SDGs will make any difference. This is because, even though the goals have increased, there was no commiserate commitment to increase funding for the SDGs. The best result from the conference was a mere ‘recommitment’ to the rather stale UN target for developed countries to spend 0.7 per cent of their GNI on aid, which was set more than 40 years ago.
IF Not MDGs or SDGs, Then What?
There is little controversy that the world has changed reasonably since the MDGs were first agreed upon in the year 2000. It would however be patronising to consider this change as drastic or to attribute it wholly to MDG programme. In the same vein, it would be mistaken for the developing world in particular, to put their hopes of ending poverty or development generally on the SDGs.
There are many global issues that need to be addressed side-by-side the pursuance of SDG goals. It is no news that climate change affects the poor more than anyone else, so events in Paris in the next couple of weeks, in terms of candid commitments by western countries at the climate change conference will prove pivotal.
The injustice of the world trading system under the WTO to developing countries continues and the lacklustre commitment at the global level to fight tax evasion and transnational corruption are just a few of the issues which will continue to significantly impact development.
Without resolving these, no Porsche-sounding three letter words will really end global poverty and lead to sustainable development. Developing countries must avoid the temptation of being carried away by flamboyant global initiatives and understand where their priorities should lie.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It would seem that relative stability has returned to Burundi after days of uncertainty on the leadership of the country and weeks of protests and violence over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office. Majority of the alleged coup leaders are in custody and have already appeared before a prosecutor, whilst the leader of the coup, Godefroid Niyombare, a general and ex-intelligence chief, is said to be still at large.
A couple of days ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya asked his counterpart Nkurunziza to postpone the presidential election due next month, to create a conducive environment, but to ensure that the vote be held within the current electoral cycle in the country, which comes to an end in late August. Nkurunziza is back in the country and back in charge; three members of his cabinet were promptly dismissed while soldiers have been deployed to ensure that the protests do not continue. Only time will tell if the fires set alight by the recent events have finally been quenched.
Meanwhile in a rather dramatic twist, Nkurunziza, in his first speech back in the country chose to speak only about the country being under attack from the Somali-based al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabab. No words are spoken about the over 105,000 Burundians who have reportedly fled the country because of the crisis, or about the many lives lost in the process. Whether or not al-Shabab’s refutal of the claims of any impending attack against Burundi is believed or not, the fact that this was the principal message in his first appearance in the capital after the now-referred-to-as-attempted coup is a clear indication that the President does not grasp the magnitude and implications of the situation and his actions. Perhaps he just does not care.
Third Term-ism and Perpetual Leadership in Africa and Beyond: Reaction of the International Community
Perhaps, he believes he is in good company in the context of political leadership in Africa. After all, just last month, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbe and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir were both re-elected as leaders of their respective countries. Whilst Faure is beginning his third term in office despite widespread protests, Bashir is a ‘veteran’ who has been in power since 1989. In fact, it is no news that there are similar long-serving leaders in Zimbabwe, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cameroun Eritrea and Uganda.
This list could actually admit a few more countries and it is this profusion that probably emboldens leaders like Nkurunziza to believe they can get away with extending their tenures by any means necessary, including threatening supreme court judges into exile and shooting live ammunition at protesters. Outside Africa, countries like Iran, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Iceland and Syria also boasts similarly long-serving leaders. It is indeed a global phenomenon.
In terms of the reaction of the international community to events like those in Burundi, the United Nations and the African Union, as expected, would usually release press statements condemning the coup attempt, whilst at the same time “urging” members states to respect their constitutions. And so they did. The leaders of the countries in question are often called by the Secretary General of the UN or some other “powerful” leader, and we are informed that they have been told basically the same message contained in the press statements, making you wonder what was the essence of the call in the first place. Beyond this, whether or not anything more is done by the international community falls to the grey realm of conspiracy theories on reasons why countries like the United States of America or organisations like NATO invades one country to topple a government, and not the other. This is a subject for another day.
The Rise of the Masses
In the last decade, and especially since 2011, the masses in various countries are beginning to stand up against leaders who display a propensity to perpetuate themselves in office. The unprecedented events of the Arab Spring provides the most palpable instances. However, as recent as last year, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso was forced to resign his office as President after 27 years at the helm amid violent protests against his continued stay in power.
Whilst the masses play their role, it is time for the international community, and especially the United Nations and regional organisations to start lay out a clear strategy and approach towards leaders bent on perpetuating themselves in office. It makes no sense to condemn the actions of Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, while simultaneously asking Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled his country for 29 years, to intervene and help resolve the crisis in Burundi.
It is important for the UN and other regional bodies to establish unequivocally what the approach to this issue should be. There should either be clear condemnation of such leaders and actions to support same, or a straightforward acceptance of the situation on grounds of sovereignty or whatever makes sense. The approach of lukewarmness adopted over the years has borne little or no fruits in Africa and elsewhere.
ECOWAS Taking the Lead
Encouragingly, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has decided to take the lead on this as it pushes to consider a new clause that would prohibit presidents of members states from staying beyond two terms. If successful, this would be a welcome development that should be replicated in other regions of the continent, and indeed the UN, towards creating a lasting solution to the concern of self-perpetuating leaders.
Not oblivious of the challenge inherent in implementing a clause like this in the context of international law, ECOWAS intends to adopt a new legal regime for Community Acts that will make all ECOWAS decisions immediately applicable and binding on member states and eliminate the need for parliamentary ratifications.
Whilst one awaits the outcome of initiatives like that of ECOWAS, there is no doubt that the most significant step towards putting a stop to perpetual leaders remains popular uprising. There is nothing that will prove as successful as the masses themselves rising against such leaders. It proved successful against Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo’s bid for a third term back in 2006/2007. It pushed Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore out of office in 2014, and considering the masses have remained on the streets even after the failed coup in Burundi, it is safe to say that the last has not been heard of that particular situation.
The power-drunk leaders in Africa are slowly but surely coming to the realization that ‘kangaroo’ referendums, manipulated constitutional amendments and intimidation of the judiciary would no longer be enough to secure a life presidency.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
In the world, people are described in different ways depending on a range of factors not worth exploring here: White, Black, Asian and so on. When completing forms in Britain for instance, the categories get a lot more interesting – Black or Black British, Arab, Asian or Asian British, Chinese, Mixed, White and even an ‘unknown’ category for those who, well, do not understand their particular categorisation.
Countries are similarly described too, albeit in a more sophisticated manner. Depending on the level of development as indicated on UNDP’s Human Development Report, a country could be termed a low-, medium-, high-, or very high human development country. As expected, over eighty percent of African countries are in the low human development category. No surprises there. It’s a trend. It’s normal. On its part the World Bank classifies countries into four categories: low income, lower middle income, upper middle income and high income countries. Unsurprisingly economies in African countries fall into the first two categories, dominating the first in particular. Beyond these, fashionable descriptions of countries that are ‘not developed’ are not hard to come by; ’Underdeveloped’, ‘poor’ ‘third world’. . . .
However, the most prominent of all taxonomies is the blanket categorisation of countries into developed and developing countries. In Africa, our countries are developing countries. That is the way it is. It has always been that way, and it would probably continue that way for the foreseeable future. The origin of this classification of countries as developed or developing is debated, but it is generally understood that the term was introduced in line with the development drive of the 1960s in describing the relationship between newly independent countries, especially in Africa and those countries ‘vigorously pushing’ for their development.
‘DEVELOPING’. It is positive word. It denotes forward movement – progress. But what exactly are developing countries moving towards? Who determines the ultimate goal of this progress? What is the ultimate destination of their development journey? Will they ever arrive at that destination, and will they even know when they have arrived? In other words, will the current crop of perennial developing countries ever get to the point of being addressed as ‘developed’ countries, or being developed countries in fact?
Whilst it appears that should be ultimate goal, I am not sure if it would ever be achieved. Development theory has long moved past the economic development paradigm set in the 1960s where the development of countries could be measured by a simple calculation of GDP and other statistical indicators. Today, a country’s development is now measured by goals like political order and stability, equity and democracy with all its numerous attendant attributes, like free and fair elections and human rights and all the other globally-accepted high-horse sounding virtues that African countries are not known for. Perhaps African countries are not known for them because we do not know them, because our societies were not built on those foundations, because our culture and values are very different from these goals.
But no, I cannot think that way. That is the way only traditional ‘uncivilised’ people think. It is the reason we had to develop – modernise in the first place. So for over sixty years, African countries have been striving to develop, to modernise their countries based on the models of the ‘developed countries’. The strife appears perpetual. It is hard to see the finish line. It is as if the goals are being updated after every decade, depending on what big institutions like the IMF would call the ‘World Economic Outlook’.
At other times, we owe the change of goals to the genius thoughts of some smart nobel-prize winning individual, like in the 1990s when Amartya Sen declared that development was no longer about the economy or infrastructure, but about ‘Freedom’ – increasing the capabilities of individuals to be able to freely live the lives they can. This caught on fast and firmly too. The World Bank, IMF, UN and all the other big ships sailing on the ocean of development quickly readjusting their sails and headed towards Freedomland. And why not? Everything else that has, at one point or the other, being pursued as development could be easily subsumed under prerequisites for freedom – education, infrastructure, economy, democracy, political stability, etc. All these and more were needed for individuals to enjoy and express their freedom. Everyone had to readjust.
For the developed countries, it was easy. These are the things they are known for, the things on which their societies have experimented for hundreds of years and become so good at. In fact, I doubt there was a real need for adjustment at all. But not so for African countries. Even before many had driven lap one like in Formula 1 races, they came to realise many more laps have just been added to the race. More fuel than anticipated would be needed, more parts, more pit stops. No need to worry, the developed countries and the big development institutions would provide support – aid, technical expertise and everything else in-between.
In fact, they will even throw in some extras like annual reports to tell each country how good or really bad they are doing. Those annual reports – on corruption, on human rights, on human development, on the economic outlook – there are reports for almost anything these days, I lose count. But they are quite easy to use though, for Africans in particular. I will let you in on the secret formula in using them – just start from the bottom up. It won’t be long before your country pops up! Except of course, you are Botswana on the corruption index – they are the ‘miracle of Africa’ in that regard. Miracles! How we need them. If we are to win this development race, we would need lots of them. Perhaps more than anything else.
The most prominent beacon for developing countries right now is the Millennium Development Goals, according to which developing countries by 2015 should eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal basic education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, amongst others. It is worthy of note that the specific targets under each of these goals are often the barest minimum possible. Hence, even when a developing country achieves universal primary education, there is yet secondary education and tertiary education to be attained before that country would stand a chance of being considered a member of the comity of developed countries.
More so, with the rate at which technology is advancing, it would seem obvious that by the time developing countries get to the current stage of developed countries, the latter would be way ahead of the pile. Perhaps the determinant of development might then be the number of robots co-existing with humans in a particular country or the countries that own colonies in outer space. Exaggerated theory, perhaps. But the point is that in the current state of things, it would appear that certain countries – mostly African countries – are doomed to be developing countries – second class countries if you will, in terms of development – forever.
Some have suggested that the measure of development should rather be the rate of happiness amongst citizens of a particular country without particular reference to income, infrastructure or other such measures. The merits of theories like this notwithstanding, countries in Africa might just fare better under such standards. In any case, there is a serious need for a change in paradigm. Otherwise, developing countries will find themselves perpetually running a race where the strategy for victory is determined by their opponents, and the tape at the finish line also held by their competitors who may continue shifting it at will. There is no winning such races, not even for our long distance maestros from East Africa.