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African leaders and SDGs

By Peter Obi

COMING shortly after the Millennium Development Goals ,MDGs,  was  wound down, Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, is one among the cocktail of measures by the global community towards making the world a better place. I am a strong advocate in Nigeria and Africa for exploring the synergy between SDGs and good governance and leveraging the Goals to work for our people and humanity at large.

Most of us are still saddened that we never fully explored the utility of MDGs as key development tools for the 15 years they lasted. I remain mindful of missed opportunities and lessons learned, more so as a former state Governor who appreciated fully how sub-national governments could benefit from, and be instrumental to the implementation of MDGs in the interest of humanity. One of the lessons was that as much as we tried as  individual leaders to attain  the MDGs, such measures fell far short of the full effects of collective action.

I am concerned about the same fate befalling the implementation of the SDGs. From my leadership, political and personal perspectives, it seems difficult to address SDGs without first grasping the harmful effects of not giving unfettered support to meeting the MDGs targets. If the MDGs did not fly fully, will the consequent SDGs fly –  since the SDG programme is a follow-on to the MDGs? I recall the then UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon’s frank observation that ”The Millennium Development Goals were  a pledge to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity, and free the world from extreme poverty… The MDGs  measured what mattered to people. As we look ahead, we must do more to reach those who are most vulnerable, are not counted and have not shared the improvements of the past 15 years.” Unquestionably, there was a void, but it must be admitted that where faithfully pursued, MDGs  added value not just to good governance, but to overall development and quality of life, as exemplified in China.

President Buhari and other African leaders during the Opening Ceremony of the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in Ethiopia on 28th Jan 2018

China’s successful integration of MDGs into its national development planning, with effective and coordinated implementation from national to local governments, helped the country to achieve an unprecedented transformative result, using the three most critical Goals: lifted 439 million people out of poverty; achieved universal basic education ahead of schedule; and made tremendous improvements in health care for women  and children, and  disease prevention and control.

In contrast, within this period in Africa, there was drastic under-performance in the three critical Goals: Poverty rose from 290 million to 414 million persons; Less than 70% was achieved in universal basic education; the number of under-nourished children rose from 27 million to 32 million.

An example of what could have been done to achieve better results could be drawn from our efforts in my home state, Anambra, in Nigeria, where we domesticated the MDGs via a home-grown mechanism tagged Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS). This approach enabled us to simultaneously engage constructively in seamless planning, budgeting and implementation of all the MDGs. These enabled us to achieve remarkably visible results across the MDGs, especially in the first three critical Goals as will be seen in subsequent paragraphs.

We became the first state in Nigeria to conduct mapping  to  establish the statistics of poverty. A major finding from the study was that poverty was fuelled by inadequate  access to rural communities, which made us construct rural roads across the state to open up those  areas to development opportunities and grant rural farmers access to urban markets for increased earnings from their produce. As affirmed by the then Federal Minister of Works and the Senate Committee on Works, Anambra State during our administration, had the best road network, particularly rural roads, in the country.

Poverty alleviation also received a boost from the reconstruction and rehabilitation of our Industrial Estate in Onitsha; attracting investments from such Fortune 500 companies like the then SABmiller. We further accelerated the pace of industrialisation as the first state in Nigeria to partner with the Bank of Industry to obtain low-interest loans for MSMEs domiciled in the state.

Our decision to return schools to their original Missionary proprietors gave rise to a novel and unprecedented Government-Church partnership. The state consistently earned the first position in most national examinations, with the added value of raising productivity in different walks of life. So unique were ANIDS and its dividends that the World Bank commissioned a study of our achievements by a team led by renowned Oxford University’s Professor Collier, for possible adoption by other governments. The World Bank supports Anambra State because of that revolutionary approach.

In Health, again with novel partnership with the missionaries, we were able resuscitate 10 Schools of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Technology. Existing hospitals were rehabilitated and revamped through huge investments in facilities and staffing. We also established 10 Primary and Maternal Health Hospitals in rural communities across the state from the money we won from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation by being the best state in the eradication of Polio; and at the tertiary level, a Teaching Hospital. With these efforts, Anambra State achieved reduction in infant mortality ahead of the MDGs deadline of 2015. Our efforts to achieve the MDGs Health Goals were widely acclaimed, including commendations from the Head of MDGs in the Presidency, (Dr. Precious Gbenieol) and other stakeholders.

Apart from these three critical Goals, our administration made concerted efforts to achieve other MDGs. On Environmental Sustainability, we partnered with other state governments in the South-East region, the Federal Ministry of Environment and the World Bank on the National Erosion and Watershed Management Programme, NEWMAP, working on various erosion sites in the seven participating states and towards mitigation of perennial flooding in major cities as Onitsha.

On Global Partnership for Development, we attracted several development partners, including donor agencies whose support was indispensable in bridging funding gaps in our state, Anambra, which is not an oil-producing state.

It has been argued that the framework of the SDGs and Agenda 2030 (with 17 goals, 169 targets & 230 indicators) is too broad to make any meaningful impacts possible. But the reality is that the SDG framework is only as broad as the prevailing global challenges and unmet development needs. If we desire truly to attempt to end poverty and ensure that people’s human dignity and human rights are respected, we should be less concerned about the multiplicity of goals, targets and indicators. Rather, we should get to work – moving from agenda to action.

I share the views of Helen Clark, the then UNDP Administrator, who recognised in 2015 that world leaders had the unique and unprecedented opportunity ”to shift the world onto a path of inclusive, sustainable and resilient development.” If the SDGs Programme is a continuum and should kick off where the MDGs ended, then the African continent needs to acknowledge that it failed in the three most critical MDGs and that such poor results must not be repeated with the SDGs.

It is instructive that the MDGs success was offset by prevailing challenges and many areas of unmet needs, which characterised the results and progress as at best halting and mixed.

Lingering problem areas likely to affect the SDGs include lack of political will, poor co-coordination, bureaucratic bottle-necks, poor resource management, erratic industrial actions, poor or total lack of true and validated baseline data, poor budgeting and accountability, and non-coordination between Federal, State and Local Government agencies.

Drawing from our experience in the poor implementation of the MDGs in Africa, making the SGDs work requires complete domestication of SDGs into the development planning of each country, and tailoring their effective and coordinated implementation modalities to the peculiarities of each  nation and their sub-national and local geo-political entities.

Effective funding is of critical importance. Africa cannot be parsimonious in funding the SDGs and expect the programme to achieve its set goals. Africa must match their funding efforts with broad support for the development of human capital and eschew negative trends like nepotism and corruption that chase capital and investments away. Nepotism is worse than corruption because it kills hard work and professionalism as people’s hard work would not match their opportunities.

Africa must premise their action on the understanding that the most critical drivers of the SDGs are human beings – the beneficiaries and the implementers. Besides the human component, the Continent must strive for adequate, reliable data collection, processing and utilization; effective evaluation and  monitoring at every stage of progress; transparent  and inclusive budgeting; accountability; applying lessons learned & grasping missed opportunities; and strong political will.

Finally, Africa owes it to our humanity to rally to a consensus that the SDGs must not flounder like the MDGs on account of collective inaction. The time to act is now, and this Global Festival of Action for SDGs represents a clarion “Call to Action”. Africa must overcome their lethargy, and must seize the moment.

Being excerpts from the remarks by Mr. Obi, former Governor of Anambra State at the Global Festival of Action for Sustainable Development Goals, At the World Conference Centre, Bonn, Germany,  21-23 March, 2018

 


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