Millennium Development Goals: An Essential Burden for Africa to Achieve
The dawn of the 21th century came to the world and world leaders with so much joy and enthusiasm that the world especially Africa has finally came to her year of revolution with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) conference which drew the largest collection of world leaders to sign the Millennium Declaration Summit in New York (UN, 2000).
For once in the history of the world, the Millennium Declaration Summit attempted to bridge the gap between rich and poor, between countries often at loggerheads with each other, address developmental issues at the highest political level with a sense of genuine partnership among nations and people (Kofi Annan, 2010). Also in this summit, developing countries were challenged to translate their development vision into nationally-owned plans.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is a fifteen years (2000 – 2015) visionary mandate made by world leaders at the beginning of the 21th century. It is an eight goals target to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, promote human dignity, gender equality and achieve peace, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development as a way of improving the African continent and the globe. As we draw close to the target date of 2015, it is necessary we evaluate the level of success achieved within the last twelve years by examining the successes, weaknesses and policy framework of the region, use it as a tool to forecast future trends and for better strategy and policy formulation.
Interestingly, the reports from the UN, World Bank and Africa Development Bank over the years shows that the continent has made significant progress in these various aspects though with varying level of performance among the goals and even among countries. Though notable advances has been made by most African countries in some indicators such as net enrollment in primary and secondary education, childhood immunization, child and maternal mortality, stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS, TB and other diseases and gender empowerment, including the representation of women in key political, economic and social decision making, it is noteworthy that even several countries (Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Rwanda) emerging from long legacies of both political and criminal violence have been among those making the fastest progress towards achieving MDGs in the last five years (Kofi Annan, 2010).
Despite these achievements recorded on the continental scene, the challenges are still great and the circumstances have not become any easier since the Millennium Summit. These challenges include lack of confidence among world leaders, crumbling international consensus under the weight of successive crises and a changing world order, lack of concerted leadership and cumbersome institutional arrangements on the international level and a growing array of financial and political pressures on the national level are proving to be formidable obstacles (Kofi Annan, 2010). On the other hand, though there is a high level of appreciation from African leaders that global problems cannot be solved in one country or continent alone, however this growing global concern is not been translated into decisive action and also there is the issue of overdue reform of global governance.
These problems highlighted above should inform African leaders need to be more articulate and compelling for global solidarity and equitable growth. They need to embrace global leadership that goes beyond aid but rather addresses the growing inequalities between male and female, rural and urban, rich and poor. One that does not measure development and progress purely in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also on the quality and sustainability of growth. According to Kofi Annan 2009 in his statement said ‘message must be that the achievement of the MDGs in Africa is not optional, but an essential investment in a fairer, safer and more prosperous world’.
Furthermore, African leaders are faced with the problem that several important donors have already reneged on their commitments, or at least relaxed their development efforts. These they have done by presenting a variety of justifications including concerns about aid efficiency to the need for a more comprehensive approach to achieving development objectives. From a global perspective, latest projections predict an aid shortfall of around $21 billion against the global targets (Kofi Annan, 2010). This in my opinion calls for the need for a more coherent and results-oriented approach to development around the region so this would not further be used as an excuse to cut financial assistance to fragile and conflict-affected states at the first sign of difficulties. African leaders should rise up to the challenges with the consciousness that the MDGs do not need fair-weather friends, but serious investors for the long haul.
More so, some of the new challenges before the world leaders on how the MDGs can be achieved before 2015 are interstate and civil wars, which are still threats in some regions, even though its gradually declining. This conflict and civil wars range from the Arab spring crisis in northern Africa to Internal conflict, fragile states and security issues, the lack of infrastructure and energy, less access to markets and less effort in human capital are among the main factors hindering its achievement of the MDGs especially in Sub-Saharan Africa (AFDB, 2010).
Owning to these various conflicts, some regions (west, central and north) of Africa have regressed on some of the progress achieved within the first ten years of the MDG because these regions play host to the highest number of mid-income earners and so termed Mid-Income Countries (MICs). These have left the MICs home to a majority of the worlds poor and continue to face major challenges in achieving the other human development goals such as in education, economic and health. As a matter of urgency, the MICs in the African region requires more assistance from multilateral institutions and donor countries, compared to countries in other regions, in addressing the region’s development agenda. This is further explained by the regions result summary presented below
The AFDB 2010 MDGs report show that though all countries of Africa has been some level for progress, there are also notable disparities in performance among the countries and even within regions. For instance, the northern region (namely Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) has performed best in almost all the goals by surpassing a majority of the target and are said to be ‘on track’ to achieving the target date of 2015. This has been made possible by good government policies and program that encourage education at all levels and also partnership from donor organizations.
This form of empowerment which the government has embarked upon has improved the socio-economic status by addressing inequality in the society and also made them more aware of their health needs and other environmental issues. This observation goes further to confirms findings by researchers that national and state policies like improving school quality, passing laws on compulsory schooling and emphasizing the immense benefits of education tremendously increase the demand for education which in-turn adversely improve the status of people in the society over times. However, the study points out secondary education as the benchmark for the evaluation if a marginal level of success is to be achieved.
Another issue of great concern in the African region is the challenge of accurate, reliable, credible and timely statistic data to measure the progress of the region in good time. This is most evident in Sub-Saharan Africa which is characterized by poor record-keeping and lack of commitment on the part of some state governments (AFDB, 2010).
On the intellectual scene, the problem of development in Africa and the contribution of MDGs have occupied the attention of scholars, activists, politicians, and development workers, local and international organizations for many years with an increased tempo in the last decade. To this end, various renounced organizations and non-governmental organizations have been writing and making publications on these various issues. Some of which that have featured prominently in globe discuss are the World Bank 2001 report titled ‘Attacking poverty’ which pointed out that “physical capital is not enough, and that at least as important were health and education”.
They also proposed a three way strategy for attacking poverty which is promoting opportunity, facilitating empowerment and enhancing security. Also, the UNDP in its Human Development report of 2003 titled Millennium Development Goals: ‘A Compact among Nations to end Human Poverty’ pointed out that achieving the MDGs require policy responses to structural constraints on several fronts along with stepped up external support. The report recommended six policy clusters to help countries break out of their poverty traps. These are; investing early and ambitiously in basic education and health while fostering gender equity, increasing the productivity of small farmers in unfavourable environments, improving basic infrastructure, developing an industrial development policy that nurtures entrepreneurial activity and helps diversify the economy, promote democratic governance, human rights to remove discrimination and secure social justice, ensure environmental sustainability and sound urban management.
Lastly, the ActionAid International in its 2005 report titled Changing Course: ‘Alternative Approaches to Achieve Millennium Development Goals and Fight HIV/AIDS’ shows that there is a yawning gap between MGD needs and spending realities in poor countries and that macroeconomic policies enforced by the world funding bodies block poor countries from being able to spend more on education, health and economic development. The report argued that for the MDGs to be achieved, the world especially Africa must change her course and adopt at local, national and international levels, alternative economic policies that allow for much higher long-term public investments in health, education and development.
It is noteworthy to mention that these three key publications like other publications, highlights two keys which are; access to quality education and health as a tool for improving the socio-economic status of the population while complimenting these efforts through global partnership. This could arguably underscore the reason why the United Nations upholds education as a basic human right in Article 26 of its Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 2005, and even in recent times, educational indicators are now the most common indexes for measuring National Development, and Human Development Index (HDI). The UN concludes that continuous stress due to deprivation of status could lead to deteriorating health and higher mortality over time and points that among those variables, the contribution of formal education deserves most attention since it typically precedes and predicts our socio-economic status. This suggestively buttressed evidence of past and present studies showing a correlation between education and various inequalities that exist in our society like income, health, employment, living standard and life style.
In summary, despite the challenges of achieving the MDGs, it remains the pivot road map to help Africa bridge the gap of development between it and her other counterparts. We must salute the courage and vision of the founding fathers of the MDGs in Africa for the zeal to transforming the continent and also salute the various African leaders who have left to stone unturned to leave up to this vision. However, African leaders must come up with clearly mandates that encompass education, health, economic and environmental sustainability with robust up to date data base to track development in these various sectors, work in synergy to learn from each other’s experience and developmental strive; build genuine partnerships that sees MDGs in Africa as not optional, but an essential investment in a fairer, safer and more prosperous world.
About the author: Emmanuel Kidochukwu Uzum is the lead consultant, Public Health and Social Development at EM & PH Consult, Ltd., Nigeria and is focused on health advocacy, monitoring and evaluation, project management, operational research and fund raising for youths, women and other vulnerable populations especially in the areas of health, education and community development. The author can be reached at: [email protected]
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