The Millennium Development Goals have been with us now for 10 years. At the beginning there was much optimism when all the world’s countries promised to drastically reduce poverty by 2015. No doubt, at the review summit next week there will be questions about, what have they achieved for Africa?
During the last few years Africa has seen a number of notable successes. As a whole the region has experienced annual economic growth rates of 6% from 2003 to 2008. In the last 5 years more than half of all sub-Saharan countries have accelerated progress in primary school enrollment and gender equality in education. Two-thirds of African countries are reducing under-5 mortality faster than they were before. These successes--and more--will be documented in the new report, ‘Still Our Common Interest’, by the Commission for Africa to be launched at the MDG summit on 20th September. It could be a significant contribution to the debate and IDS is pleased to be associated with the research.
We realise though we need to be clear about what credit the MDGs can take for these achievements in Africa. Some have argued that the MDGs provided an unfair starting point for African countries and have been something of a burden; it seems clear, whether by design or accident, that different ways of specifying the indicators could have put Africa in a better light. Despite this, there is a consensus that the MDGs have provided an important rallying point for international and African efforts to accelerate development in the region. The goals have probably helped in delivering the 46% increase in aid to Africa since 2004. That aid, combined with homegrown solutions and underpinned by economic growth, has in turn contributed towards further progress against the MDGs.
This, of course, does not mean the MDGs will be met in Africa but it does mean real and tangible progress. There is a way to go and the Commission for Africa’s new report recognises the distance to travel is significant. Now the challenge is to accelerate progress and make it more widespread. Primary school enrollment is up but education quality needs attention looking ahead. There is progress on HIV, but little movement on child nutrition and maternal mortality. Economic growth needs to be more inclusive and employment-led.
And then there is the economic crisis and its aftermath. The crisis has set back African economies in terms of progress on the MDGs. Outright recessions were experienced in almost a quarter of countries. And while Africa has done much better than other regions in maintaining MDG-related social spending, pre-crisis growth rates are not expected to be recovered before 2015. On top of that, just when it is most needed, aid is under pressure in the OECD countries.
The MDGs are well suited for these tough economic times - they are an important mechanism to rally public opinion in North and South. But their ability to raise the profile of the problems is not equal to their capacity to raise the profile of the potential solutions. This needs to be taken into account during their reimagining post 2015 (see Andy Sumner's piece on this).
So how can Africa help the MDGs become more effective? By using the MDGs to go beyond raising money and tracking indicators. Civil society in Africa can use the attention to generate home-grown solutions and hold governments and donors accountable for implementing those solutions.
Of course the MDGs were never meant to apply at the country or regional level- they are global indicators. But by making the MDGs in Africa more African, they can be used to generate a commitment to implementing those solutions. There are examples of embedding MDGs in national development plans. Botswana’s Vision 2016 and National Development Plan for 2009-2016 uses MDG targets; Ethiopia’s National Development Plan prioritises MDG achievements; in Ghana and Sierra Leone the growth and poverty reduction strategies explicitly focus on the MDGs, while Senegal has established a Special Presidential Adviser and appointed a national steering committee to coordinate the national response to the Goals. These are all examples of embedding the MDG targets into national plans.
Other countries have gone further: Mongolia, Ecuador and Barbados have all developed their country level MDGs by expanding the dimensions of well being to be tracked, along with the corresponding indicators and targets.
But no countries have, as far as we are aware, used their MDGs to target investment as well as results. The tracking of indicators without tracking commitments on policies, laws and spending makes it difficult to hold governments to account. It also detracts from debates around solutions.
In 2010 Africa needs the MDGs more than ever, but it needs its own MDGs produced through deliberative processes. These will allow African citizens to better hold their own governments, and those of the donor countries, to account for the promises made in 2000.
Lawrence Haddad and Andy Sumner