Africa and the Challenge of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

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By Kayode Oladele

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the palliative initiative of the United Nations endorsed in 2000 in New York . The goal had a special focus on and target set for Africa to reduce by half maternal and infant mortality, illiteracy etc. This is in recognition of the fact that Africa is the only continent in the world where poverty, ignorance and disease are soaring. There was need to arrest the trend through planning and strategic intervention. What does the real story on the continent tell us about the MDGs? Is 2015 a realistic or feasible date? These are the two questions I set out to answer.

Indeed, since the introduction of structural adjustment programs (SAP) in most African states, development plans and planning have given way to the rule of the market. This had devastating consequences for social sectors such as education and health which served the public good. Unfortunately, SAP failed to deliver on all the issue it promised, this left both the state and the people worse off-the only beneficiaries were the smart speculators who took advantage of the policy. These hawks are still milling around the current global financialization project that is at the heart of the activities of the World Trade Organization (WTO)

The lesson learnt from SAP is that African states are unable to meet the basic needs of their people when they externalize their economies and/or embrace the market. Current so-called global economic crisis also shows that there is no such thing as market determinism. There are distortions in the market and there are crooks in the markets, they need to be regulated and checked for transparency and accountability and indeed the proper functioning of the market. The recent history of global capitalism shows that there is a lot of fraud and racketeering going on. In no small way, SAP was responsible for deepening the African crisis, and hence deepening the poverty levels.

Quite enthusiastically, every African country embraced the MDGs and this was for three reasons. First the donors, especially the Paris Club, as a precondition, insisted that fresh loans to third world leaders should go into development of infrastructure and manpower-this came in the alarming context of social hardship suffered by the people. Second the UN indicators showed that more people were falling below the US$1 per day benchmark. Third and more importantly, it became apparent that in the uncritical embrace of structural adjustment and the market, many African countries simply abandoned their social responsibility to the citizens. They not only abandoned this programmatically, but also philosophically. This marked the full transition from “mixed economy” into what is euphemistically referred to as neo-liberal economy.

The neo-liberal economy has failed Africa; it has no philosophy of development and it is more concerned about economic growth. It is more concerned about the health of the market rather than the health of the people, it is more concerned how commodities are sold rather than who is able to buy commodities. The market ideology is rooted to the ideology of “fend-for-thy-self”. As a result, more Africans were forced into informal sector.

What is most damning however remains the fact that most African leaders have no clue about how to govern their people; what constitutes good social policies; how to formulate and implement good social policies. Many of them have no clue about the priorities of the people-what exactly do about the needs of the people? This is also because they are completely out of touch with the ordinary people-elections have become nothing but mere hijacking of votes-more of a case of highway robbery. Citizens’ rights have been seen as obtrusive and an anathema. Public opinion has been perceived as anti-democratic. The African leader is more concerned about what attention he/she attracts from the media, how many people were at his/her son’s or daughter’s naming ceremony, his/her marriage anniversary etc? To be sure, there is an  social rumor monger  to take note of the top dignitaries in attendance, and accordingly report to His/Her Excellency. Or how his wife’s/husband’s shopping spree in Paris or Brussels or New York was reported in the electronic and print media. The African leader becomes a pure hedonist who enjoys nothing but opulence and the vulgarity of power. Gossips and rumor become the main window to peep into his/her private life.

NEPAD as a framework for bringing about Africa ’s development has so far not succeeded. This is because it relies on the old framework of market to achieve its goals. The market has failed African countries and people several times. African states are still unable to achieve the minimum internal unity, cohesion, and coordination over the complementary primary produce they have. They have not explored the potential of their internal market and the need for a collective and onerous strategic approach in dealing with the WTO and western financial cartels. Western donors and financiers have fed on this to undermine many African economies. They have fed on this to negotiate their strategic interest. The market logic emphasizes individual competition rather than cooperation among states; as such it preaches the principle of divide and rule. Today the US government is able to make security inroads to Africa through the African Command (Africom) because NEPAD has not put in place a coordinated strategic approach to the security question in Africa, this is in spite of the CSSDCA championed by Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) and finally endorsed and established by the AU.

The MDGs are core to the mandate of NEPAD, however when disaggregated there is no national framework for achieving them in many African countries. Little wonder that, so far, only six African countries have been able to subject themselves to the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), and only three of the six countries have done well, on account of the assessment. Why are Africa countries afraid of a Peer review done by African experts? This is because they know that a lot of them are ill-prepared and ill-equip to pursue a development agenda; a lot of them have not even made democracy a critical element I their pursuit of social and economic policies. Yet, if the IMF and World Bank were to come and assess those countries they are most likely to pass. Why because the criteria and standard set by those institutions are on the most part anti-people-read Joseph Stiglitz’s book on globalization to appreciate this point.

The MDGs as embraced by NEPAD were meant to confer continental and then national ownership on the project. But as it turned out more than 90% of the 38 Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) of the world are in Africa . Many of these HIPCs are countries in Africa that are either still in war, or post-conflict societies or countries with democratic arrest/crises. Only a few are resource poor countries. Some of them have resources, and indeed the resources are indeed sources of conflict in some of those countries.

NEPAD has no leverage because it is seen as the political baby of Thabo Mbeki, hence the resistance by the Mbeki group for NEPAD to relocate to Addis Ababa and work directly under the AU Commission. The case has been made that the Mbeki case is akin to a physician who could not heal thyself, not with the grinding poverty, homelessness and illiteracy in South Africa, a situation which could not be fundamentally address by the Growth and Redistribution Program (GEAR)-a program which was implemented haphazardly and hopelessly abandoned to the market logic by the South African government with the sharp transition into neo-liberalism under Trevor Manuel. To be sure Manuel has for long remained South Africa ’s Minister of Finance and a darling of the IMF and the World Bank because of his financial and economic policies which have continued to entrench what some have captioned financial apartheid in South Africa .

The APRM has not resulted in much success as such, because the peer review process is voluntary, there is no compulsion or forcible compliance. What do Africa states need to do? A continental approach to MDGs is certainly correct and wise one-but most African leaders do not have the will, spirit, skills and capacity to embrace any socially-relevant continental project beyond the rhetoric.

At the country levels there is need to creatively and ingeniously develop policies and programs that meet the needs and aspirations of the ordinary people. What are the core needs of the people? We cannot assume or wish a way this question. It partly accounts for why African leaders design bad policies, because they are ignorant of the needs of the people. In order of priority, how do the people want their needs to be met? How are they involved in the prosecution of programs that affect their lives and those of their children? How are they involved in Monitoring and Evaluating (M&E) programs? If African governments proceed in this manner, they will have the people on their side, and they are most likely not to make fatal errors in program-design; they are more likely to achieve human development.

In conclusion, the MDGs are mere palliatives for third world countries, they are temporary measures meant to bring succor to the poor- by themselves they do not mean or imply some grand economic development programs. The MDGs are blueprint around some core social issues designed from outside and foisted on NEPAD, or better still endorsed by NEPAD. However, as things stand today on the continent, minimal and tentative as the MDGs are, most African countries cannot meet the set deadline of 2015, principally because there is lack of commitment on the part of most African leaders, many of who impose bad and contradictory national economic policies on their people. In most parts of Africa , there is lack of commitment and inconsistency in the implementation of the MDGs. As a result, the goal of accomplishing MDGs in 2015 remains an illusion or a mirage. It is pitiable that even palliative initiatives on development cannot be achieved by Africa . Where there lies the future of the continent? What is the way forward? The people must show more interest in governance, and beyond interest they must be part of governance processes; also, the leaders must show more commitment and sensitivity to the plight of the people.

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