Why SDGs could transform Africa

pupils in the standard one
Copyright: Jan Banning/Panos

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  • The World Bank says 75 per cent of the poorest nations are in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • The17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) could transform the continent
  • But this can happen mainly through embracing and financing the SDGs

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Embracing and financing the sustainable development goals could help Africa develop, writes Alberto Leny.

Africa is in the limelight as the world ushers in the post-2015 development agenda.

The World Bank statistics indicate that 75 per cent of the world’s poorest countries are located in Sub-Saharan Africa, including ten with the highest proportion of residents living in extreme poverty. [1]

World leaders passed a resolution to adopt the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last year (25 September) at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, United States [2]. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which has succeeded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), could mark a turning point for Africa.

SDGs aim to end extreme poverty, hunger and inequality, tackle climate change and build resilient infrastructure to meet Africa’s urgent priorities — economic growth, achieving access to safe drinking water and energy, and investments in agriculture.

“Despite the optimism, researchers and public policy for development analysts are still looking for answers to the burning questions confronting the continent.”

Alberto Leny, SciDev.Net

The debate on Africa’s transformation from a continent characterised by uneven, unstable and irregular development patterns to one of sustained economic growth and diminished poverty continues among scholars, planners, policymakers and decision-makers at the local and international levels.

Are the 17 SDGs and 169 targets the panacea to Africa’s faltering perennial struggle to stimulate growth and combat poverty?

Monitoring the major meetings across the globe in 2015, the international development debate has mainly focused on the problem of poverty and how to reduce it.

Growth and prosperity

This is Africa’s greatest hope of transformation from desperation to growth and prosperity.

Indeed, the first of the 17 SDGs considers Africa’s monumental challenges, as it seeks to “end extreme poverty in all its forms everywhere” by 2030.

However, despite the optimism, researchers and public policy for development analysts are still looking for answers to the burning questions confronting the continent: What makes Africa the poorest region in the world? How can the sustainable and broad-based economic growth necessary to solve this complex task be delivered to offload the heavy burden that weighs down the continent? What is the role of science, technology, innovation and industrialisation in this equation?

The UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said the SDGs are in sync with Africa’s priorities and could transform the continent. Speaking a day after the adoption of the SDGs at an event organised by the non-governmental organisation Global Citizens and attended by prominent personalities in world politics, social activism, business and entertainment, Ki-Moon is reported to have said: “Let’s make the global goals a global reality. These goals are a promise from your leaders. Hold them to it. Demand that they deliver.” [3]

The UN chief added that SDGs aim to end poverty, hunger and inequality, tackle climate change and build resilient infrastructure.

In July last year, he addressed the Third Forum for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, ahead of the adoption of the SDGs and described 2015 as “a critical year in charting a common framework for future development in a balanced and integrated manner”. [4]

Financing SDGs

Africa’s leaders know that for the continent to achieve the lofty goals, financing the implementation of SDGs requires substantial investment. At the ISID forum in Ethiopia last year, African Union (AU) chairperson Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma charted the way forward, urging leaders to take practical steps to apply research, science, technology and innovation to drive the continent’s development. [5]

The forum was also addressed by top leaders, including the  World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa executive secretary Carlos Lopes, United Nations Industrial Development Organization director-general LI Yong, prime minister of Ethiopia Hailemariam Desalegn, the European Commission director-general for International Cooperation and Development  Fernando Frutuoso de Melo and the minister of economy, finance and planning of Senegal Amadou Ba, who represented President Macky Sall.

The leaders underscored the importance attached to financing the SDGs, which the developing world, Africa included, will greatly depend on in the post-2015 agenda.

“We either unite or collectively perish, as no single country or region can be an island of prosperity in an ocean of poverty, insecurity and underdevelopment.”

Nkozasana Dlamini-Zuma, African Union Commission

To Dlamini-Zuma, industrialisation, one of the ninth SDGs, is paramount for Africa to adopt inclusive and sustainable industrial development as a driver for job creation, economic growth, technology transfer, investment flows and skills development. This goal commits to building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.

“We must place science as a central part of higher learning, invest in infrastructure development and agricultural modernisation and processing, and replicate successful programmes in countries such as Ethiopia and Senegal,” Dlamini-Zuma reiterated.

 Dlamini-Zuma cautioned African researchers and policymakers about African youth risking their lives while crossing the Sahara Desert to make dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean Sea to seek jobs in Europe.

“Africa needs to take its own responsibility for its own development. Africa must industrialise and beneficiate,” she noted. “If we do not — given our growing large youth population — instead of getting a demographic dividend, we will get a demographic disaster, which has already started. This is a tragedy whose roots are in the underdevelopment and marginalisation of Africa.”

She said that the young men and women are making the perilous journey because there are not enough jobs and lack skills to get or create jobs.

“We have no choice but to embark on a transformative route through programmes that will eradicate poverty, because if we don’t, this disaster will engulf all of us, not just in Africa,” Dlamini-Zuma warned.

Unite or collectively perish

The solution, Dlamini-Zuma said, lies in Africa taking responsibility for its own development: “We either unite or collectively perish, as no single country or region can be an island of prosperity in an ocean of poverty, insecurity and underdevelopment,” she added.

The AU acknowledges that the SDGs offer great hope for transforming Africa, and has asked its partners to support its Agenda 2063 — the continent’s bold policy to create “the Africa we want” by 2063 —  so that the continent goes beyond merely exploiting its agricultural and mineral resources and focus on industrialisation.

Endowed with vast resources, Africa can, through industrialisation, develop its oil and gas sector, and the automotive and textiles industries. Africa also bears the biggest burden of diseases but hardly develops drugs, creating a major opportunity for the development of the pharmaceutical sector.

By adopting this path and fully committing to embracing the SDGs, Africa could reach a turning point in post-2015, a period when the continent takes a bold step towards growth and transformation.
Alberto Leny is assistant regional news editor at SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa region.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa desk.