When MDGs are not Met, the Dignity of the Majority of African People is Seriously Undermined

aid United Nations Hunger hiv/aids Entrepreneurship MDGs underdevelopment
Wednesday, 15 September, 2010 - 12:32

Africa should stop relying on aid in order to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The continent’s obsession with the delivery of aid has created a tendency for governments to focus more on aid for the realisation of the MDGs than on other sources. Increased aid to Africa will not translate into increased budgets for programmes directly linked to MDGs

Reliance on aid to guarantee our dignity through the Millennium Development Goals was a huge mistake, and raising more funds to bridge the resource gap without closing the leaking tap is like pouring water into a bucket full of holes.

In September 2000, the world’s Heads of State and Government adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration. Subsequent to the Declaration numerous international agreements and commitments were made to increase aid and provide debt relief in order to speed up the implementation of the MDGs. African Monitor has been tracking the performance on these commitments through the issuance of an annual Development Support Monitor (DSM). The 2010 DSM has just been published and highlights the following regarding the prospects for the attainment of the MDGs:

Firstly, delivery on aid commitments has recorded a steady increase from 2004 through 2009. While it is a positive trend, it has created a tendency to focus more on aid in terms of the resources needed for the realisation of the MDGs than on other sources. The recent global financial crisis has come as a rude shock to remind us that this was a distortion and huge mistake. While this is worrying, it is also timely and calls us to pay due attention to the other side of the resource coin.

The DSM implores the continent to take its eyes beyond aid to the real resources that Africa is richly endowed with.

Firstly, its people. By sheer numbers, the continent should be leading in global economic recovery and growth. The continent has close to a billion people, the majority of whom are in the young and productive age group. They are hard-working women and energetic youth in their prime. Entrepreneurs from outside the continent view this with glee as ‘a huge market opportunity’ for export of their products. As Africans we need to see this as a huge resource for the realisation of the MDGs - within our own continent we have the human capacity to secure our own dignity.

Unfortunately, investment prioritisation of this incredible resource is not always commensurate with the opportunities it presents. A recent study commissioned by African Monitor for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has noted that while there seems to be support for investment in the productive sector, the share of allocation to sectoral programmes directly linked to MDGs such as agriculture, nutrition, health, gender equality and youth employment is low. Take HIV/AIDS as an example. While an estimated 40 percent of the world’s people affected by HIV/AIDS live in SADC, an allocation of only 1.9 percent of the aid package goes to HIV/AIDS-related programmes.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, was recently quoted as saying “let us invest in woman. This is where we need progress the most.... until women and girls are liberated, poverty and injustice and all that goes with it such as peace, security and sustainable development stand in jeopardy.” Again, investments to these sections of society are not commensurate to the need.

Secondly, it is investing in the mainstay economy. Almost without exception more than 70 percent of African people live in rural areas and get their livelihoods from smallholder farming and activities in what is commonly known as the informal sector. The SMEs which have significant growth potential to help create a rising middle class faces government-imposed obstacles that make one wonder where the priorities of our governments lie. They face red-tape and high compliance costs, and lack access to finance and markets, because we prefer to import and consume what we do not produce. If we are to become more serious about securing our people’s dignity, the other name for MDGs, we must prioritise the already vibrant and resilient mainstay aspects of the economy – the smallholder farming and informal activities that sustain millions.

The 2010 Development Support Monitor (DSM) and Citizens Consultation on Africa’s Development Agenda 2010 and Beyond, another African Monitor report, chronicle ordinary peoples voices - their analysis, aspirations, hopes, expectations, and determinations.

The findings indicate two things; firstly that Africa is not in a hopeless situation. Five major causes of hope and excitement about Africa were identified through Citizen’s Consultations, in stark contrast to the doom, gloom and disaster that is beamed into and out of Africa on a constant basis.

Some of these include the creativity, wisdom, and ingenuity among African communities in their fight against poverty. Africa had and still has cultural values and knowledge in science, medicine, technology and agriculture, which can be used for the development of the continent. We have not valued them adequately and as a result we think that we can only survive by begging from those we helped to develop. As an African saying goes, ‘it is ignorance that makes the chicken go to bed hungry while sitting in the bucket of corn’. Worse still, those values and knowledge are being lost to successive generations, because there is no systematic way of passing them on, while the education curricula used in our system is undermining these very treasures.

Thirdly, it is the triple contributions of the Diaspora. The two reports cite the enormous contribution that the African Diaspora is making to the transformation of the continent. To date the Diaspora is known for its remittances, which are enormous, having reached US$40 billion in 2008, surpassing official development assistance and foreign direct investment. Beyond this, the reports highlight the skill and technological contribution as well as the entrepreneurial and institution building the Diaspora is making. “Just like as it has happened in India and China”, the Citizen Consultation report argues, “African Diaspora is already beginning to play leading roles in transforming Africa.

Significant numbers of highly skilled professionals from the Diaspora are taking advantage of the economic growth and infrastructural upgrades to start business in high growth African economies”. These entrepreneurs are promoting a new culture of private sector innovation that is reinvigorating African economies and entrenching positive social capital conducive to democracy and civility. This has not been the business of guest commercial entities. To realise the twin aspirations of development and good governance, we should create the enabling environment to attract back African entrepreneurs and capital in the Diaspora.

Lastly, is the thorny issue of reverse flows. I am horrified by the statistics in the 2010 DSM that in addition to exporting value in the form of primary commodities, up to today the resources in cash and smart money leaving the continent far outstrip those coming in and this phenomenon is conveniently often less discussed. Africa is haemorrhaging, the severity of which may be the primary cause for Africa’s failure to make sufficient progress in reducing poverty and meeting the MDGs. Other causes, such as donor broken promises, are important but surely they are only secondary.

Raising more funds to bridge the resource gap without closing the leaking tap is again like pouring water into a bucket full of holes. Of course some of this outflow is legitimate - business and rich people taking their money out in order to manage risk, for example. However, the bulk of the loss is illicit - individuals and large corporations, in particular using illegal invoicing measures to conceal profits or to evade taxes, facilitated and maintained by the presence of tax havens in rich countries where secrecy prevails. The volume of these resources is staggering and on the upward trend. Attend to this and we are on the trajectory to the full realisation of the MDGs.

The two reports present concrete proposals as to how to go about this. To download copies, please visit www.africanmonitor.org.

- Archbishop Njongo Ndungane is President and Founder of African Monitor and the article is based on two recently published reports on Making MDGs attainable and their outcomes sustainable. For more information, please contact African Monitor on +27 217132802; info@africanmonitor.org

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